Jason Harrigan (above) is expecting a step up in his second year as head coach at Cardinal O'Hara. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
(Ed. Note: This story is part of CoBL’s “Prepping for Preps” series, which will take a look at many of the top high school programs in the region as part of our 2017-18 season preview coverage. The complete list of schools previewed so far can be found here.)
This time last year, Jason Harrigan barely had time to focus on offensive or defensive principles with his new team.
Harrigan took over as head coach of Cardinal O’Hara in late October 2016 and immediately had to begin laying a foundation on what he wanted his program to be, while getting acclimated with his roster. After leading a successful tenure as head coach at Del-Val Charter, which included a Public League and District 12 Class 3A title in 2015-16, Harrigan took over at the Springfield (Pa.) Catholic League school and “had to learn on the fly” about what type of players he was going to be coaching.
The Lions started out the year with victories over Pope John Paul II, Chichester and Oxford and played tough matchups against Springside Chestnut Hill and Springfield (Delco.). After finishing the non-league portion of the schedule with a winning record (5-4), O’Hara did not win a game for the remainder of the season, going 0-13 in PCL play.
“The atmosphere and playing style are a lot different than the Public League,” Harrigan said. “I’m very familiar with the teams now, but last year I learned how great and how well-coached all of these teams are from top to bottom. You never get a break.”
Harrigan’s offense was carried by Third Team All-Catholic selection Jaye’Lyn Peebles, who averaged 18.3 ppg and scored a school-record 40 points against La Salle. The Lions also lost three other seniors in Jah'Fear Toler, Martin Osayi and Sharif Dawson. All four players had played three seasons under former head coach Steve Cloran.
Harrigan knows he’ll have to input a few new pieces into his lineup but he’s giving this year’s group a clean slate because he will be overseeing an entirely new team.
“Our team is going to look a lot different from last year,” Harrigan said. “I can’t judge anyone off of last year.”
Senior guard Garrett Ripp is one of the holdovers that has seen two head coaches during his time. As a junior, Ripp averaged. 5.5 ppg and scored in double figures in six games including a season-high 14 points versus Father Judge. Ripp noted an immediate change when Harrigan arrived and it has resonated with the rest of the team.
“You could certainly see the skill level change from our previous coaches,” Ripp said. “It was strictly defense and this staff just made us better all around. They made us understand the game from a defensive perspective.”
When talking about Ripp, Harrigan noted “playing in the league last year will pay dividends for him this year. The biggest thing for him is his ability to remain focused at all times and playing hard.”
Fellow holdovers are seniors Chris Johnson (5.1 ppg) and Taseer Jones (7.0 ppg). Johnson is “a player who has been here through the tough times and it’s an exciting time for him to be a part of the change here at O’Hara. He can be a catalyst of the change,” as Harrigan describes.
Jones, who showed flashes of strong play, including a 13-point outing versus Roman Catholic, will be looked upon to provide leadership and scoring this season.
Harrigan’s success at Del-Val was one of the reasons he was brought in to help change the culture at O’Hara and he’ll have one of his core players from his former team to help with that.
Antwuan “Booty” Butler, who is committed to Austin Peay, was a member of that Public League and district title team as well as a 1,000-point scorer. Butler is slated to be the starting point guard and will have command of the offense. Harrigan knew what type of player Butler was from having previously coached him and he’s been impressed with how he’s developed as a leader.
“I’m honored to be able to coach him again. He’s relentless and he’s a winner,” Harrigan said. “He’s not taking a backseat to anyone. The big difference in Antwuan is his leadership abilities have grown exponentially. Even though he’s new, he has welcomed the guys and they’ve welcomed them. He has a rapport with those guys and he’s doing a great job leading on and off the court.”
On the inside, Harrigan will have two young big men to work with in 6-6 sophomore forward Kyle Maska and 6-5 freshman forward Solo Bambara. While both are raw, Harrigan states “it’s going to be a challenge for them every, single day but for them to get that experience at this level is going to be a big plus for them. They’re rebounding and defending as best as they can.”
The Lions open the season on Dec. 8 against Springfield and Harrigan has filled the non-league schedule with quality programs to get his team ready for the PCL portion. Cardinal O’Hara will play 6A state tournament qualifier Emmaus, plus Audenried, 2A runner-up Constitution and Inter-Ac champ Germantown Academy. They’ll open Catholic League play on Jan. 2 at Archbishop Ryan.
The Catholic League is always among the top leagues in the area, with a plethora of Division I talent on display every night. Ripp feels having been battle-tested for the last few years that this is the time the Lions can get back to the postseason, a place they have not been to since 2012.
“When I was a freshman, I felt like I was playing against grown men and some of them really are,” Ripp said. “They made me immensely better. If it were not for playing against them, I would not nearly be as good as I am now.”
The foundation has been laid and the culture created, which should allow Harrigan to get back to focusing on what he does best: coaching and showing a young group how to play together just like he did at Del-Val.
Click above to visit our store! Use discount code "HOLIDAY" at purchase and save 10% off all orders of $50 or more. Now through Friday at midnight!