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Brian McCloskey returns to Central League as Harriton girls head coach

07/27/2022, 1:15pm EDT
By Missy Dougherty

Missy Dougherty (@Missyingyou)

New Harriton girls’ basketball coach Brian McCloskey won’t need any directions on where to find the gyms of the Central League.

A 2015 graduate of Springfield-Delco, where he played basketball and baseball, McCloskey begins his first head high school coaching job in very familiar territory as he takes over leadership of the Rams from Chris Wielgus.

McCloskey, who was most recently an assistant women’s basketball coach at Swarthmore College, is thrilled for the homecoming to the Central League, and specifically for the chance to head the Harriton program.

“I saw the Harriton job as a great opportunity,” McCloskey said. “I was a student-athlete in the Central League and I know what it takes to be successful.

“Any team can come in and take the title year in and year out in the Central League. Kids graduate, newcomers arrive, but for the most part the culture is set. There is no recruiting, so these athletes are the best at the game in their hometown. They are raised in the competitive environment from a young age and most stick together all the way through four years of high school pushing each other every day.”

Brian McCloskey is the new Harriton girls basketball coach. (Photo: Courtesy Swarthmore Athletics)

The Harriton program has definitely known success in the last four years as the Rams have hit the double-figure mark in the win column each season on their way to qualifying for the Central League playoffs, and the PIAA district tournament.

“I am going to look to take the experience of the younger kids and their prior success and build off it,” McCloskey said.

“It isn’t easy to win every year,” he added.  “It takes time, development, and a sense of community, throughout not only the team, but the town as well.”

In his three seasons as an assistant at Swarthmore, McCloskey got to see Harriton play while on the recruiting trail and liked what he saw.

“They were young and tough,” McCloskey said. “They played to their strengths of defense and transition and those are areas in which we will look to continue to be successful. We are going to bring the same kind of intensity that has become the standard in a Harriton uniform.”

While Harriton graduated four-year standouts Annie Aspesi and Maretta Smith, the cupboard is far from bare. The Rams return 10 varsity players, including three starters. Also returning will be assistant coach Brian Placek, who McCloskey refers to as a “great basketball mind” that will ease the transition.

“I loved coaching at the college level,” McCloskey said.  “I felt like it was time to teach what I know I know and develop a program of my own.”

McCloskey’s program will include a commitment to defense and just simply making his players better.

“Basketball is almost positionless these days,” McCloskey said. “I am not looking for any specific type of player but plan to adjust my system to the athletes I have in any given year.”

The seeds of a future coaching career can perhaps be traced back to high school when McCloskey seemed to have a knack for seeing things on the floor that Springfield head coach Kevin McCormick and his staff saw, too. 

Those roots continued to take shape as an undergraduate at Washington (Md.) College, where McCloskey served as a student assistant for the women’s basketball team for four years.

Playing basketball in the gym one day with some friends, Washington head coach Alisha Mosley approached the group looking for some practice players. That initial meeting eventually led to a position on Mosley’s staff and the intangibles that come with experiential learning.

“I got a lot of faith and trust from Coach Mosley,” McCloskey said. “She helped me grow as a person and a coach.”

Primarily focused on the individual development of the players, McCloskey also tracked play calls and was provided with the opportunity to give the scouting report on an opponent as a senior. McCloskey remains grateful for the respect he was given from the Shorewomen for what he brought to the team as a student himself. 

“I gained friends for life from the experience,” he said.

McCloskey parlayed his time on the Washington bench to a spot on the Swarthmore staff upon graduation, where his three years with the Garnet provided more time to work on the nuts and bolts of leading a program —player workouts, scouting reports, film breakdown, offense installation, recruiting, and social media management. Most of all, McCloskey’s time at Swarthmore allowed him to glean more basketball knowledge from mentors Candice Signor-Brown and Dawn Grant.

“Both coaches I served under showed me that it’s important to realize that every player needs to be coached differently,” McCloskey said. “Kids are raised differently, taught differently, and that holds true for coaching as well.”

While McCloskey enjoyed his time on the college circuit, recruiting and road games took him away from his family at times, so moving into the high school coaching ranks brings the added benefit of less travel.

“I am getting married on Aug. 27,” McCloskey shared. “Coaching high school basketball will give me the ability to be around my family more. “It will be nice to replace my long trip with Conestoga as opposed to Carlisle (home of Centennial Conference opponent Dickinson College).”

Although this will be McCloskey’s first head high school job, it will not be the first time he has had his own team. He spent the last three years as the head coach of the 14U East Coast Power Under Armour Futures AAU team. 

This top job has a different feel, however, as assuming leadership of a Central League team is a welcome homecoming.

Owning a rolodex of memories from his time as a Central League athlete, McCloskey identified one that seemed to top the rest.

“Senior year, we walked into the Kobe Bryant Gym at Lower Merion to play against the Aces in the Kobe Bryant Classic, and we beat them,” McCloskey said. “It may have been a regular-season game but it was a great moment for me and the other nine seniors.”

The new bench boss now looks to steer the Rams to future great moments of their own as the excitement in McCloskey’s voice about the approaching season is palpable.

“I’m really excited to get after it,” McCloskey said. “Getting back into the Central League and competing, I want to push the student-athletes to be successful on and off the floor.”

“I am someone who cares passionately about the student-athletes and assistants and the fans around me. I look forward to becoming part of the Harriton community, which is going to get the best effort from me and my staff.”

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