Rosemont – Over the last decade players for the Harriton High School boys’ basketball team have come and gone. The only constant during that time pacing the sidelines has been head coach Jesse Rappaport, who has certainly had a big role in putting a stamp on the program’s success.
When the 2017-18 campaign begins, that familiar face will no longer be there after making the gut-wrenching decision to pursue his dream of coaching at the collegiate level joining the staff at Penn State – Brandywine as an assistant coach for the men’s basketball program, which will be guided by Harriton alum Ben Kay, who was tabbed as the new coach on April 28.
“It was probably the most difficult decision of my life,” said Rappaport, who will continue to teach Social Studies at Harriton. “To leave a program we spent so much blood, sweat, and tears to build is extremely difficult. After a pleasantly surprising season, Harriton has a great core coming back, players that are rapidly improving, and bought into the system.
“The hardest part of saying good-bye though, was saying good-bye to them as fine young men, rather than just basketball players. The senior class next year I have known for many years. They came to our basketball camp as junior high kids, and we were around each other all year trying to get better.
“Just as difficult was telling Athletic Director Tom Ferguson, the best athletic director I have ever worked for, and someone who works tirelessly for the students, and the school. While we enjoyed the wins together, he always stressed the importance of following the rules, practicing good sportsmanship, and having good character around our program. He is a great role model for every coach at Harriton, and I will miss working with him.”
Rappaport added, “The idea of coaching college has always been intriguing, but when Ben (Kay) called me he gave me a very appealing sales pitch, with a great new staff. He is a very bright young coach, and to solicit my help was very flattering and seemed like a great opportunity to return to the college game that I last was around as a player.”
During his tenure at Harriton, Rappaport took over a program that had won three games in the season prior to his arrival and put his own stamp taking the Rams to the PIAA District One Tournament eight of his 10 seasons including seven in a row.
In his second season (2008-09), the Rams entered the district tournament as the lowest seed and advanced to the Final Four.
In 2012-13, the Rams entered the district tournament as the 24th seed and advanced the elite eight posting upset wins over Council Rock North and Central League foe Strath Haven. Against Council Rock North, the Rams held a lead for most of the night before Alex Shippen hit a buzzer beater from the foul line extended to send the Rams into the second round.
The following season, the Rams traveled to Coatesville for the opening round and handed the Raiders a loss thanks to a half-court buzzer beater to end the first half by Jordan Wright to give Harriton a much needed lift.
“None of the success we had would have even been possible without the players or a great coaching staff,” said Rappaport. “I thank them for believing in me, and giving their heart and soul. I am indebted to them all.
“I am also proud how our ex players are excelling in college basketball on and off the court. Alex Shippen, Detasla Dixon, Matt Sherman, Itay Levy and most recently Will Esposto have all just graduated. They all had, having or going to have great careers on and off the court.”
Sherman said, “Rapp is a highly skilled basketball tactician and strategist. But what stood out the most during his time at Harriton was his willingness to connect with his players. He demonstrated extreme loyalty to his guys, and that gave us the motivation to play even harder on the court.
“Harriton will absolutely miss his energy, passion, and commitment to growing the Harriton basketball brand. My first memorable basketball moments came in my time at Harriton under Coach Rapp. The trust he instilled during me in my freshman year gave me the confidence early on to be an aggressive playmaker.
“I credit Coach Rapp with allowing me the freedom to grow my game each year. My high school experience undoubtedly prepared me for success at the college level.”
Playing a very important but seldom noticed role in aiding Harriton’s success was the staff Rappaport assembled along with support of the parents, especially Steve Rosenberg, who served as the head of the booster club for eight years.
Rappaport said, “David Torresani, the longtime successful coach at Abington, and North Penn, who I served as his assistant at Abington, came out of basketball retirement to become my assistant for eight years. His only motivation was to help mentor a new coach, and help young men learn basketball, and life lessons.
“Julius Cooke was my JV coach for nine years, and he will make an incredible head coach one day, and I was so lucky to have him. Ryan Egnasiak, Jordan Ingram, Harrison Singer, Matt Fusaro – who was a 1,000 point scorer for me as well – and Scott Olster all spent time on our staff, and showed Harriton the ultimate dedication.”
Penncrest boys’ basketball coach Mike Doyle said, “Jesse has always been a college-level coach coaching high school [teams]. His teams constantly overachieved relative to his talent level. On another note, it’s very sad to see him go although a fierce competitor during the game, after the games he was always a friend. Having spent 10 years as a college coach it is not an easy life but he is well prepared and he will bring a lot to the table. Penn State-Brandywine is lucky to have him.”
Harriton Athletics and Activities Director Tom Ferguson said, “Coach Rappaport has been the heart and soul of our boys basketball program. He has worked extremely hard to create a positive team culture that is based on hard work, dedication, and teamwork. I knew his teams would play hard and represent Harriton in a positive way. His teams were always in the district playoffs and we had some memorable victories over the years. I want to thank him for 10 great years. We wish him well and success in his new position at Penn State.”