This tree called “Philly Basketball” has many branches indeed. Kelly Fieldhouse, on the campus of St. Joseph’s Prep, was the appropriate place for a big event on Friday afternoon January 12, 2018.
As the legendary high school and college coach William “Speedy” Morris closed in on 1,000 victories, the basketball Gods were stirred to action. A bit of snow and freezing temperatures pushed the schedule back just enough so that the opportunity to accomplish this astounding feat could be done at home, in front of a very large crowd which included many former players, coaches and other luminaries from the world that Speedy has inhabited for half a century.
At one point, after the victory over the somewhat overwhelmed visiting squad of sacrificial lambs from Lansdale Catholic, the crowd was asked to respond with applause if Coach Morris had touched their lives. A thunderous, and near unanimous response followed the request. So many in this crowd had played for this man, or been influenced in their career choices by him.
Still coaching every second of every game, this one was no different even though SJP was a clear favorite in talent, size and skill. The final score was 63-42 in favor of St. Joseph’s Prep. It was never a close game. Pacing the sideline, the familiar scowls and instructions of Coach Morris didn’t change just because of the circumstances. At one point, a player raised his arms and said “What can I do?” and the Godfather on the sidelines bellowed, “You can play some defense.”
St. Joseph’s Prep was led by lightning quick guard Darius Kinnel with 18 points and five assists. Kinnel also scored his 1,000th point during the contest, which was stopped so that he could go to the sideline opposite the bench to celebrate with his family. Morris commented on the young man’s milestone by claiming that his accomplishment in four years was better than the 1,000 wins over 50 years. Speedy, who is the father of a stand-up comedian and has been on stage himself, always had a wry sense of humor.
Morris’ grandchildren, seven of eight, were led out onto the court hoisting a banner proclaiming, “1,000 wins, congrats Pop Pop way to go!” His wife Mimi joined him as he was presented with a plaque, with laminated Inquirer articles about the 1,000 wins, and a ball that showed 1,000 wins printed onto it.
Morris got his start at Roman Catholic as the JV coach way back in 1966. He moved to Varsity for 14 years and created a great tradition of quality, competitive ball for the Cahillites that continues today. He then spent two years as the women’s coach at La Salle and 15 as the men’s. He put in two years at Penn Charter of the Inter-Ac League, and is now in his 17th at the Prep.
The record over his career is a very solid 1,000 wins and 425 losses. At 75 years of age, Morris will consider retirement only if his health warrants it. If he feels well next year, expect to see him back on the hardwood at 17th and Girard next season.
In attendance on Friday were many former players including standout Zane Major Sr. (Roman) and the great Lionel Simmons (La Salle University). The mayor of Philadelphia, Jim Kenney, stopped by as well, being a Prep grad himself. Also seen were fellow coaches Phil Martelli (St. Joseph’s University), Fran Dunphy (Temple), Carl Arrigale (Neumann-Goretti) and the 94 year old wizard of Princeton, the great Pete Carril. Guest PA announcer and legend himself, Dan Baker, took the microphone. The tree certainly does have many branches, and is continuing to flourish and grow.