Jason Harrigan (above, with Cardinal O'Hara in 2018) is the new head coach at St. Joe's Prep. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_Kcallahan)
Late last season, Camden High played at Shawnee in a match-up of two of South Jersey‘s traditional powerful programs The gym was packed. The anxious crowd was an even mixture of students who walked down the hallway for the after-school game and veteran hoop fans who passionately traveled from gym to gym to see good ball.
Both the kids and the vets were treated to watching the Camden players pushed by Panthers’ assistant coach Jason Harrigan in warmups. The crowd watched as the former O’Hara and Del-Val head coach put The High through a high-level combination dribbling and stretching drills. Each movement was purposeful. Each player broke a sweat while paying attention to detail.
Camden roared to a strong start in the 30-point win.
This is the type of coach The Prep is getting. This is the determined and detailed coach St. Joseph has.
During the Coronavirus shutdown, after being named the new coach of the Hawks in early June, Harrigan was already doing the little details that make a big difference. He was doing basketball drills and drilling his players virtually.
“About a week after I got the job, we started zoom call workouts,” Harrigan said. “We would do a zoom call in the morning, we were doing push-ups, ball handling drills and those types of things The kids embraced it, they showed up, they got stronger, they got better and virtually pushed themselves.
“It’s not the start I would’ve liked, I would’ve preferred being in the gym, but we made the best of what we had,” Harrigan said.
Harrigan is replacing the best.
The 37-year-old replaces the legendary Speedy Morris, who coached the Prep for 18 seasons to a 366-140 record. The former La Salle University men’s and women’s coach announced his resignation last winter because of health. Speedy was on the Hawks’ sideline for the final time March 7 at Kutztown University in the PIAA Class 6A playoffs, falling to Reading 57-45.
“It’s an honor, but I’m not really replacing, more so just trying to keep pushing forward and trying to keep the tradition going,” Harrigan said about stepping into the shadow cast by Morris, the winningest coach in Catholic League history.
Harrigan is a winner, too. He coached Del-Val Charter to the Philadelphia Public League title in 2016. He inherits a youthful Prep team, though, that was hit hard by graduation last year.
Harrigan, who was the head coach for five seasons at now shuttered Del-Val, assisted last season at Camden High under former Temple star Rick Brunson, so he has been around high-level basketball minds.
“Last year was so educational for me because Rick is a basketball lifer,” Harrigan said. “Being able to observe and watch and throw ideas off him was a tremendous opportunity. It was a very rewarding situation for me.”
Harrigan started helping out at Camden under Vic Carstarphen, who also played the point, like Brunson, for John Chaney and the Owls.
“Vic brought me in and that was another great opportunity,” Harrigan said. “Camden High has a great tradition and Vic allowed me to work with the kids and that was a great experience and Vic is just a great guy all round.”
Harrigan, who played high school ball at Burlington Township in South Jersey for former Saint Joseph star guard Bryan Warwick, plans on using all his basketball experiences and connections to help him at the Prep, where expectations are rightfully always lofty.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Harrigan said. “When I got the job I was getting phone calls and emails nonstop. The only bad thing is with social distancing I haven’t been able to meet face-to-face with people.
“But the overwhelming amount of phone calls and emails has been so important.”
Harrigan, a graduate of Florida A&M University with a degree in finance, worked at JP Morgan Chase before switching to education and becoming a math teacher.
“Unfortunately with Covid, you can’t interact with players, alumni and supporters,” said Harrigan, who now works with the School District of Philadelphia as a positive behavior intervention and support coach. “But I can’t wait to get into the gym and see people, not just email people who have been very supportive, so I can’t wait.”
Harrigan, who “lives a mile away from the Prep,” is also pumped to return to the Catholic League. He was the head coach at Cardinal O’Hara for two seasons from 2016-18.
“Beyond the talent, every year there’s a ton of really talented players, there’s a ton of Division I basketball players, if you end up on the top of the Catholic League, you’re typically on the national radar,” Harrigan said.
“But what I also appreciate about it is the challenge it presents the coaches,” Harrigan said. “These are not just regular high school coaches. They do high-level preparation in regards to scouting, to marketing their program, making sure their program is appealing to young people, preparation and development for the college recruitment, it is unique in this league.
“So for me, who wants to be the best coach, I can possibly be, I want to be challenged and there’s no better way than to be in the best league in the area, in the region, which I think is already one of the top five conferences in the country year in and year out,” Harrigan said.
He is already replacing one of the best coaches.
“I am very excited to have a coach with Jason’s skills as our next head basketball coach at the Prep,” said Assistant Principal Josh Rorer, the chair of the search committee for the position. “For nearly two decades, our basketball program has been in the incredibly capable hands of Speedy Morris and I believe that Jason is the right person to take the reins and continue its success.”
Incredibly, Morris posted a 1,035-455 record in 52 remarkable seasons at Roman Catholic, Penn Charter, the LaSalle women and men and finally at the Prep.
“Speedy is a legend and I don’t think there’s anyone who’s comparable, so it’s a very unique situation,” Harrigan said. “Speedy is a legend, not just to St. Joseph’s Prep but to Philadelphia basketball.”