Speedy Morris (above, in Dec.) coached the final game of his 52-year career on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
KUTZTOWN — Speedy Morris often tells a particular story. As a 25-year-old coaching his alma mater, Roman Catholic, Morris distinctly remembers his first win.
But after beating Archbishop Wood back in 1967, all Morris wished was that his father, who’d died more than a decade earlier, had been there.
So, as the legendary coach took to the sidelines for potentially the final time Saturday afternoon, it was only appropriate that family, friends, former players and colleagues from all over the country found a way to make it to Kutztown’s Keystone Arena.
“He always had an army,” Keith Morris, Speedy’s son and St. Joe’s Prep assistant coach, said. “We were laughing earlier. They told us Reading sold 600 tickets pre-sale and we said we sold six [for our family] plus us.”
The Hawks’ crew wasn’t enough to keep the Speedy era alive for a few more days, though, as District 3 champion Reading closed out St. Joe’s Prep 57-45 in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs. Senior Trevor Wall did his best to play hero, scoring nine straight points for the Hawks over nine minutes to pull within a pair at the start of the fourth quarter.
But the Red Knights pulled away with a 19-9 finish over the final six-plus minutes and hit 15 of their 19 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts to advance to Tuesday’s second round.
And as Speedy left the St. Joe’s Prep locker room for the final time, there was a long line of guests waiting to pay their respects to one of the all-time coaching icons.
“I don’t want to leave but I have to,” Morris said. “To think I’m not coaching again, it’s going to be tough after 52 years. … I’ll follow these kids, and I’ll miss the hell out of them.”
Morris had hoped to make it to 55 years, but a Parkinson's diagnosis a few years ago prevented him from reaching that milestone. Except while he was coaching, Morris used a cane, gingerly making his way from the bench to the locker room and back.
Yet the fragility never seemed to bleed into his coaching.
Though the Hawks were far from dominant this year — they finished 6-9 in the Catholic League and came up two wins shy of one last chance to play at The Palestra — St. Joe’s Prep still finished with a winning record and another state playoff berth.
Of course, that wasn’t ever going to be good enough for Morris, who racked up more than 350 wins during his 18 seasons at the helm of the Hawks.
“To know that we’re his last team, it’s a hard way to go out, especially with a game we should’ve won,” Wall said. “[It was an] emotional locker room and I gave him a big hug on the way out. But it is what is.”
For a minute, it looked like Reading was going to roll. The Red Knights led 15-10 after a quarter and sophomore Daniel Alcantara, a 6-4 wing really had it cooking — the forward scored eight of Reading’s first 15 points on his way to a game-high 27 points and seven rebounds.
But Speedy’s team did what Speedy teams so often do. The Prep hunkered down and turned up the defensive heat, forcing the Red Knights into 14 turnovers on the game.
By halftime, the Hawks trailed just 26-25 and it wasn’t until the final minute that it was clear Speedy’s story had reached its final chapter.
“We just made too many mistakes,” Morris said. "Give them a lot of credit. They come at you hard.”
What was harder, however, was the finality of it all.
Although Speedy didn’t shed a tear while speaking with reporters postgame, Keith Morris, who’s spent many years on the sideline next to his dad, repeatedly choked up, once needing a pat on the shoulder from his son as he did his best to hold it together.
“It’s always been more than basketball,” Keith said. “The cheesesteaks, the Tastykakes, the Palestra games, the things he does off the court.
“It’s been a great ride. His mind is still very sharp — he sees stuff that we don’t see –– but his body’s just not there anymore.”
Reading coach Rick Perez, who's guided the Red Knights for the last nine years and been on their bench for 18, understood exactly what it meant to stand opposite Morris as the legend took the sidelines for a final time.
“He’s such a trailblazer for the game,” Perez said. “Anyone who can do something for 50-plus years, that’s amazing.”
And as Morris said thank you to all his well-wishers one last time — something that’s become routine as he’s made his final stops all over the Delaware Valley — his Hawks headed for the buses.
The last chapter in one heck of a story.
“He’s always been, ‘I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to have to give it up,’” Keith Morris said. “That’s who he is.”
Reading: 15 | 11 | 11 | 20 | 57
SJP: 10 |15 | 7 | 13 | 45
Reading: 17-33 FG, 6-14 3PT, 17-23 FT
SJP: 17-50 FG, 5-17 3PT, 6-7 FT
Reading: Alcantara 27, Adams 10, Rodriguez 7, Osumana 6, Brea 5, Chapman 2
SJP: Wall 18, Geatens 10, Thomas 10, King