If former Friends’ Central high school basketball coach Jason Polykoff could have ended up anywhere, it would’ve been at a local college with top-notch academics and an established, historically successful basketball program.
Fortunately for him, that’s exactly what happened when Penn came calling in June.
“In this business you don’t usually get your choice,” Polykoff said. “But if I had my choice, this is where I would’ve been. So the fact that I was asked to join the staff here, I was ecstatic.”
Polykoff, entering his first year as the volunteer assistant coach for the men’s basketball team, comes to the Quakers following a highly successful five-year stint as head coach of local Friends’ Central School, his alma mater. There, he led the Phoenix to a 113-28 record and four straight Pennsylvania Independent Schools State Championships from 2009-12.
“I’ll always love Friends’ Central,” Polykoff said. “But I was ready to try something different, a new challenge.”
At Penn, he’ll face the task of being one of three new men on the bench — along with recent hires Scott Pera and Ira Bowman — in a completely revamped assistant staff under head man Jerome Allen. Together, the group will aim to end the Quakers’ longest NCAA tournament drought since 1988-92.
He’ll also face one other potential problem: As a volunteer assistant, he reiterated that he doesn’t get a salary.
“I wouldn’t say it doesn’t pay much — it doesn’t pay at all,” he said with a smirk.
So Polykoff, who taught middle school math while he coached at FCS, will stick to his “math roots” to keep a steady income by tutoring some of his former students.
Like Rudy Wise, the volunteer assistant before him, Polykoff will also helm the junior varsity team. As such, he’ll be in a more familiar position of head coach.
“I’m really looking forward to that part of the job,” he said. “It’s a little bit of extra time on top of my responsibility with the team, but it’s basketball, and I’m okay with that.”
As far as gelling with the big guys, Polykoff believes the transition has gone smoothly.
Junior captain Fran Dougherty said the team is “embracing the process.”
“We understand … it takes a while for the young players to learn the offense and defense,” Dougherty said. “There’s a lot of teaching right now.”
On the court in practice, Dougherty described his new coach as an upbeat personality, while fellow junior Steve Rennard offered that Polykoff gets “his fair share of talking time in practice.”
Overall, there already appears to be a good relationship forming between players and coaches.
“They’ve done a good job in trying to connect to us on and off the court so far,” Rennard said. “I really like them. They’re very enthusiastic.”
It’s been especially easy to relate to Polykoff, who’s not even 10 years removed from his playing days at Haverford College and could easily be confused with one of his players if he tossed on a uniform.
“He’s a down-to-earth guy, he’s a young guy,” Dougherty said. “He’s cool with us and he hangs out in the locker room and stuff.”
Polykoff and his team may be considered young for their respective positions, but it would be unwise to underestimate them.
“We do have a young group,” Polykoff said. “But man, they’re talented. They’re athletic. They work hard.
“We’re going to surprise some people out there.”
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