Hard Nosed Effort Name Of Game For Jason Harlow

copyright Peter Wallace – Register-Citizen 2/13/2010
Lots of basketball coaches pride themselves on a running, full-court-pressing style of basketball.
Jason Harlow’s Litchfield High School Cowboys do it with an edge.
“One of our goals always is to control how hard we play,” says Harlow, now in his seventh year with the Litchfield boys team and former Bethlehem Plowboy of the Tri-State Baseball League. “We want to make sure we play harder than the other guys. We can’t control everything, but we can control how much effort we put into each play.”
Those are the kind of words lots of coaches can use; Harlow means every one of them.
A look at any of his teams, at least by midway through the season, proves that point. A look at Litchfield’s record since Harlow has been there, with his philosophy, proves its success.
It’s doubtful that any coach just “decides” to bring a hard-nosed philosophy of play with him; it’s too hard to distinguish kids who just run from kids with the kind of edge Harlow molds, without a deep background of your own in knowing the difference. Harlow played basketball for Thomaston High School in the ’80s as a 5-foot-4, 125-pound sophomore who grew into a 5-foot-8, 145-pound senior. His team won a total of nine games in his junior and senior years, when Harlow scored nearly half their points, averaging 17.5 points a game. That caught coaches’ eyes at Western Connecticut State University (Danbury), where he finally grew into his current 6-foot, 165-pound frame. Even so, he was 14th man on a 14-man team that went 28-2 in his sophomore year and made it to the Division III Tournament Elite 8.
“You don’t have a choice to be ready every day,” grins Harlow. “When you’re 14th man on a 14-man team, you better bring it every day.”
By the time a kid plays four years in Harlow’s program, he knows that feeling well — and he loves it, looking back on the experience with the same kind of fondness and pride an Army or Marine veteran might have in surviving — and thriving in — Ranger training.
“We set some standards that may be the highest they’ll ever have in life,” Harlow says. “We want them to be great kids on the court and off. If they’re not willing to do that, they’re not going to play for us.”
Lots of coaches say that; Harlow means it.
“Every team, every kid, wants to be good,” he says. “The question is, how hard are you willing to work at it?”
Harlow’s teams traditionally over-achieve, thanks to standards he insists they’ve set themselves.
“A coach’s role is providing information to help a kid succeed,” he says. “All kids are going to fail — and they’ll fail a lot. We encourage it; it helps them take risks; then they find out about themselves.”
Then Harlow adds the extra oomph.
“I say all the time, ‘Do your best; you’re going to fail. So do your best again.”
If you’re on a basketball court, how do you fight that attitude?
Lots of Berkshire League teams find they can’t. Once Harlow’s philosophy was established at Litchfield, his team was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in 2004-05. They went 19-1 for the Cowboys’ first boys basketball title in 20 years.
The next year, they started 2-2, then won 16 straight for back-to-back league championships. They also won the league tournament. In 2007, the Cowboys finished 17-3, a game behind Gilbert, but defended their BL Tournament crown with another title. In 2008, they were 18-2 and league champions again, completing a four-year stretch at 72-8.
“You have to sweat blood; when you do, it’s a shared accomplishment that never goes away,” says Harlow, whose second major tenet, behind hard work, is unselfishness.
After a down year in which the Cowboys started three sophomores, they’re back to 13-4 this year. From an early season drubbing by undefeated Nonnewaug, which regularly beats opponents by at least 20 points, Litchfield closed the gap by their second meeting, on January 26, from 58-33 to 50-46. Jason Harlow’s philosophies work.