Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
NEWTOWN SQUARE — Even if you didn’t know exactly who he was, there was something strangely familiar about the young man working the sideline for Episcopal Academy’s boys squad on Wednesday night. The measured but intense demeanor, the looks at referees after a disagreed-with call, the walk-and-clap down the sidelines after a timely bucket.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’ve been practicing those moves with my stuffed animals since I was three years old,” Taylor Wright said. “I’ve definitely picked up a few things.”
Taylor Wright (above) took some coaching tips from his father, Hall of Famer Jay Wright. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
When you’re the oldest son of Jay Wright, it might just be built into the DNA.
The younger Wright, EA’s junior varsity coach, was called into varsity duty this week during the Churchmen’s appearance at the Marple Newtown Holiday Tournament. Brian Shanahan, the former Temple walk-on now in his third year coaching at Episcopal, was out with COVID.
It was an opportunity he’d been preparing for, knowingly or unknowingly, his entire life.
As far back as he can remember, Taylor Wright has been around the game of basketball. His dad, who’s gone from a young, hotshot Hofstra head coach to one of the game’s modern legends during his two decades at Villanova, is one of the most respected coaches in the game, at any level.
To Taylor, and younger siblings Collin and Reilly, he’s just Dad.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary, just like any other dad’s job,” the 2011 EA grad said. “He goes to work, comes home, and that’s what Dad does for a living. It was really cool, the success he had to follow, but nothing’s changed since the Hofstra days.
“We were just sitting around the other day, prepping for our games like it was old hat, it was kind of fun,” Taylor added. “I’m the luckiest coach in the world to have someone like him that I can just bounce ideas off of, sitting in the living room.”
Jay Wright might have two national championships, a spot in the Naismith Hall of Fame and an assortment of national, league and Big 5 Coach of the Year trophies, among numerous other accolades he’s collected during the course of his 28-year Division I head coaching career.
What he doesn’t have is an unblemished resume, something Taylor still has after Episcopal held off Downingtown East, 53-52, to capture the tournament title Wednesday night.
“He watched tonight, so he knows,” Taylor said. “I don’t have to tell him — he knows.”
A ninth grade history teacher at Episcopal, Taylor’s just getting started on the next phase of his life. After graduating from Brown University, for whom he played baseball, Taylor got into the business world, but eventually pitched three seasons of professional baseball in the independent Frontier League, hanging up his cleats after the 2021 season.
He’s actually in his third year of working with Shanahan on the Churchmen’s staff, something he was able to do in the baseball offseason while he was still pitching. That familiarity with the program made it easier for him to slide up a few chairs for a couple games.
“Brian Shanahan has done an unbelievable job with this program, so I felt like all I had to do was press play and let them go,” Wright said. “The only things I really have to talk about [with my dad were] just how to stay composed, how to relay those messages.
“I’m so lucky to have somebody that I can just watch day in and day out, how to compose yourself, how to handle a sideline, and yeah, like I said, it’s quite a blessing to be able to have someone like him to be able to share those experiences with.”
Though he’s a Villanova guy through and through, Wright does have to be a little careful of his Big 5 allegiances working with Shanahan, who walked on at Temple under another legendary coach in the late John Chaney. The Wildcats and Owls were scheduled to meet that same night, but it was postponed.
“It might have been a blessing that this game got postponed, we didn’t have any animosity this week [...] might be good to skip that one this year,” he laughed. “It’s funny, we’ve kind of all take stuff from everybody.
“Good basketball is good basketball: Temple’s really good, Villanova’s really good. Coach Shanahan talks about Coach Chaney all the time. So it’s really cool to hear ideas from some really great coaches in Philadelphia, guys that know what they’re doing.”
The Churchmen (4-8) have played a difficult non-league schedule, losing to Roman Catholic and Devon Prep by nine each and to a difficult trio of prep schools at the Hill School’s tournament earlier this month. That’s off the back of a 1-9 season a year ago, which saw them play only 10 games, all against Inter-Ac competition.
“We wanted to go challenge ourselves, and that’s how you get better,” Wright said, sounding very much like his dad. “And I think we responded really well these last two games, coming out of a tough stretch there.”
Tournament MVP Kevin McCarthy (22) had 27 points in the title game win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Sophomore guard Kevin McCarthy, off to a strong start for the Churchmen, led the way with a 27-point effort in the win, earning tournament MVP honors. The 6-3 combo guard was 11-of-24 from the floor and 5-of-12 from downtown, and grabbed eight rebounds (four offensive) as well as three steals.
“The Hill tournament really prepared us for these past two games,” he said. “We’re still getting better.”
The youngest member of the Churchmen’s starting lineup, McCarthy represents their best offensive weapon, a budding future college player who’s still scratching the surface of his potential. But that means taking upon a larger role within the program, especially if they’re to have Inter-Ac title aspirations.
“Trying to be more of a leader, especially to the younger guys, and just make sure everyone knows what they’re doing,” he said. “That’s really it.”
All five EA starters stuffed the stat sheet: junior guard Eddie Jones added seven points and nine rebounds; junior forward T.J. Lamb six points, eight rebonds and four assists, and senior forward Daniel Kane three points, three rebounds and five assists; McCarthy’s older brother, Penn lacrosse commit Matthew McCarthy, chipped in five points, four rebounds and three assists.
Downingtown East, which trailed by 15 at half but used a 21-12 third quarter to close the gap, got a 23-point outing from junior guard Connor Shanahan, whose 3-point attempt at the buzzer hit front iron. George Bousum added 14 points and seven rebounds for the Cougars (1-5).
Episcopal Academy: 11 | 19 | 12 | 11 || 53
Downingtown East: 9 | 6 | 21 | 16 || 52
Episcopal Academy: 22-53 FG (8-24 3PT), 1-5 FT
Downingtown East: 19-48 FG (3-16 3PT), 11-16 FT
Episcopal Academy: K. McCarthy 27, Jones 7, Lamb 6, M. McCarthy 5, Kane 3, Demyun 3, Jaszcz 2
Downingtown East: Shanahan 23, Bousum 14, McClatchy 8, Vendetti-Spahr 5, Hill 2