Speedy Morris (above, in 2018) is coaching his final season at St. Joe's Prep after a 52-year coaching career. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Kevin Cooney (@KevinCooney)
There was a bottle of water in one hand and a soft pretzel in the other as Speedy Morris stood in a makeshift locker room within a classroom at Father Judge on Wednesday night.
On this night, the man who has been a fixture in Philadelphia basketball appeared to be in his happy place. The idea that this night would be the end of the coaching career of the 77-year-old head coach for St. Joseph’s Prep dissolved quickly in the evening.
“It crossed my mind earlier,” Morris said. “But I’m so happy being with this group of guys. We have been in every game and we’ve kept battling.”
On this night, the Hawks surged and took the drama out of the building. With Trevor Wall scoring 21 points and Chris Arizin knocking in 20, St. Joseph’s Prep claimed the fourth and final PIAA Class 6A playoff spot in District 12 with a 77-59 win over Olney Charter in Mayfair.
After not playing since Feb. 12 and a 77-64 first round loss to Archbishop Carroll in the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs, the Hawks will earn another 10 days off before playing the second place finisher in District 3 –– either Wilson or Reading –– on Saturday, March 7 in the first round of the state tournament. (That game will be in District 3.)
Unless the Hawks get to the state quarterfinals against the winner of District 12, it is likely that Morris will not have another game within the city limits. And yet…
“It’s better than the alternative,” Morris said.
The game itself was never in doubt. The Hawks took advantage of early Trojans foul trouble and poor shooting to rack up a 19-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 43-13 edge at halftime thanks in large part to a 21-0 run in the second quarter that sealed the game away.
For Olney (22-5), there was a good amount of fight in the second half. But that didn’t soften the blow of disappointment.
“I thought we played with more of a sense of urgency in the second half than we did in the first,” said Olney coach Jason Lawson, who is a Big Five Hall of Famer from his years at Villanova in the mid 1990s. “We outscored them in the second half (by 12). It was a tail of two halfs. I wish we played with that same intensity in the first half.”
It is the biggest challenge that Public League teams have playing in these district games against the Catholic League. The PCL is a nightly meatgrinder, but that allows for a playoff atmosphere almost every night within league play. On this night, the Trojans didn’t match up until it was too late.
From here on in, there is going to be a lot of eyes on the Hawks. It speaks to the institution that Morris’ career has been that his farewell tour has generated this much outward love and support.
On Wednesday night, there was a pre-game handshake with Lawson and a picture of posterity. Because it’s Speedy, there’s always a backstory. Lawson got to know Morris a lot when Speedy was trying to recruit him to La Salle back when he was at Olney as a player in 1993.
“I’m a big fan of his,” Morris said. “He was at La Salle every day. I wanted to recruit him badly but he had a great career at Villanova. And he’s a good coach –– they went 22-4.”
“I have the utmost respect for Coach Morris going back to when he recruited me,” Lawson said. “He’s been doing it a long time. Sharing a stage with him was a privilege and honor for me. He’s got a great staff with Coach (Randy) Monroe, they do a great job and get guys ready. It was a great experience.”
And now, the show moves on after another week hiatus. But there’s one image from Wednesday that shows the fire is still there in Morris. And it’s an image that shows why it would be silly to rule them out of making a state run.
The game was long decided and a good portion of the sparse crowd had already picked up their coats by the time the two minute mark in regulation hit to head for the exits.
In the far corner at Bill Fox Jr. Gymnasium, a St. Joseph’s Prep player had dribbled a basketball off his left foot out of bounds. By this time, the lead was 21 for the Hawks and the trip to the state playoffshad already been secured.
And yet, there was Morris still standing near the scorer’s table, trying to make another teaching point. Still pointing something out and still looking to keep going.
For one more game, the Hawks and their coach will do just that. After all, that’s what makes him happy.
Saliekee Roberts 2 2-4 7; Rashad Rayford 3 1-4 7; Mekhi Tribbett 4 1-4 9; Zion Key 5 0-0 15; Aamir Terry 3 1-2 8; Sabree Glover 3 0-1 6; Milton Carter 3 0-0 7; Totals 23 5-15 59
St. Joseph’s Prep
Trevor Wall 7 3-7 21; Jimmy King 4 6-6 16; Chris Arizin 6 7-9 20; Brian Geatens 5 1-2 14; Richard Thomas 2 1-2 6; Totals 24 18-26 77
Olney 4 | 9 | 24 | 22 | 59
SJ Prep 19 | 24 | 18 | 16 | 77
3-point goals: O: Roberts 1, Key 5; Terry 1, Carter 1; SJP: Wall 4, King 2, Arazin 1, Neatens 3, Thomas 1