by Tom Utescher
In selecting a new head coach for its basketball team, Springside School once again drew upon the hoops-rich tradition of the Philadelphia Catholic League’s Northern Division. Outgoing coach Brian Morris came to Springside from Bishop McDevitt High School, and the Lions new mentor, Steve Purcell, spent the last two seasons as assistant coach for the girls basketball team at Archbishop Ryan.
Purcell knows Morris and knew a little about the Springside team, and after visiting the school for his interview his assessment was, in essence, what’s not to like?
“They have a lot of talented players coming back, the people that I talked to were very nice and enthusiastic about the program, and obviously the facilities are great,” he commented.
Speaking of Purcell, outgoing Springside Athletic Director Sheila Pauley noted, “He has a strong coaching background, especially being in the Catholic League (Archbishop Wood of the PCL North has won the last two PIAA Class AAA state championships].
Pauley continued, “He also really expressed the type of vision we want for the program moving forward. He has a lot of connections in the sport, which obviously are going to be helpful. He saw our team a couple times last season; in one of those weekend showcase events we played at Ryan.”
Purcell’s daughter Jennifer, a rising senior at Little Flower High School, is a friend of Springside senior forward Michelle Boggs. In fact, Boggs told him about the job opening at Springside when they were watching a Catholic League semifinal game back in February.
Purcell, who also has a son who’s a student at the University of Pennsylvania, has coached in Chestnut Hill before, serving as a Chestnut Hill Academy assistant under John McArdle back in the 1980’s. When his children were very young he traded a coach’s clipboard for a referee’s whistle, but he got back into coaching when his daughter began to play basketball in grade school.
He piloted the highly-successful girls team at St. Matthew’s in Northeast Philadelphia for five years, leading them to the Philadelphia CYO final four on three occasions. Part of Purcell’s own playing career was spent just over a mile away at Father Judge High School. He played for legendary Judge coach Bill Fox, then worked with him as an assistant coach for the Crusaders.
In all these assignments, and in his last two years as an assistant at Ryan, Purcell took the approach that “The best way to win is defense. Some days your shots aren’t going to fall and you’re not going to score a ton of points, but you can play tough defense every game and always give yourself a chance to win. It’s pretty much the same with rebounding and foul shooting; they can keep you in games when not all your field goals are falling.”
He’s seen the sturdy, 6’1” Boggs play many times and plans to make use of her size in the low post on offense.
“I’ve heard about some of the other girls, but I don’t really know what their strengths are yet,” he said.
The Lions’ new skipper met with his players last week, and will be on the sidelines this summer at their games in the Lou Cappiella League in Roxborough. He’ll also try to watch the girls play for their various AAU club teams, and there will be casual open-gym sessions at Springside.
“We’ll get to know each other before we start practicing for the school season,” he remarked. “The one area where I’m playing catch-up is in scheduling some of our non-league games. That’s something that’s usually in place before the end of the previous season, but obviously that wasn’t possible in this case.”
He already has one assistant coach on board. His colleague Joe McGuire coached the boys freshman team at Father Judge, and put together several undefeated seasons there.
“We’re also going to have two female assistants, and I’ve talked to some very good people,” Purcell revealed. “I should be hearing back from them very shortly, and then we’ll really be ready to go.”