In basketball, much attention is paid to the players, and rightfully so. But watching a good coaching duel develop can be like watching a work of art being created in front of you.
TheDribbleDrop has always appreciated all facets of the game and will be linking with a distinguished high school basketball coaches every week to discuss the ins and outs of the game and what happens in-between the lines.
This week, Linden High head coach Phil Colicchio. During our interview he discusses his thoughts on the shot clock, why so many kids turned to private schools over public schools, his edge on the private schools and more .
By Christian Mordi / @thedribbledrop on IG and Twitter
TheDribbleDrop: Coach for those who don’t know, tell us a little bit about your coaching and playing background.
Coach Colicchio: This is my 31st year coaching. I coached 10 years as a JV coach at Elizabeth High. I then went on to for Barringer one season as a varsity coach and then I went to Linden High.
TheDribbleDrop: You started at linden 20 years ago in 1998. The named the court after you in 2014. How much did that mean to you?
Coach Colicchio: It’s still pretty surreal. I walk into the gym and I see my name on the court. I’m still active. When they first named the court after me I said that the should carve the court into 200 or 300 little pieces and give a piece to every player who has played for me. They all deserve a piece of that floor. My assistant coaches as well. I have been fortunate enough to have great players and assistant coaches. Combine that with the support from administration and I have been a lucky guy.
TheDribbleDrop: I read an article by Steve Politi titled “The Best Basketball Coach In NJ Isn't Who You Think It Is.”. One quote stood out to me:
"For the talent he's had and the teams he plays against, I agree: I think he gets the most out of his team and is the best coach in the state," said Ben Candelino, the former Elizabeth coach and Colicchio's mentor.
How do you even the playing the field? Is it your relationship with the players? Preparation?
Coach Colicchio: Well a big part of our success is the fact that our kids grew up playing for each other. One common thing that these kids have is they all play for the name on the front first, which is Linden. We use that to our advantage. We pride ourselves on that.
I’ll give you an example of that. There was a picture took of our kids that was in the newspaper. Our kid Khalif Crawford had just taken a charge. All four kids on my team ran over to him to pick him up. Everyone had their hand extended to help him off the floor. They all lifted him off the floor. Joey Krempa, Mikey Watkins, Marcellus Livingston and Tavon Jones. It was the best picture I seen that represented what we are as a program. 5 playing as 1. Picking each other up when they need it. I got that framed at school and my house office.
TheDribbleDrop: If you were use one word to describe your coaching style, what would it be and why?
Coach Colicchio: Relentless. We have high expectations on and off the court. We are focused on getting our kids to do the right things. Share the ball. Defend. Rebound. Get good grades. Be leaders of our school. I’m relentless in my pursuit of those things.
TheDribbleDrop: You have seen the landscape of nj basketball change a lot over the past decade or so. Private have been sweeping over things. Years ago many good players went to publics. What are your thoughts on that?
Coach Colicchio: Well their aren’t a lot of public school coaches that are staying at schools for a very long time. Back in the day you had guys coach at the same place for 30 years. One of my assistants has been a varsity coach for 35 years. 25 years was at the same place. You don’t see that as much at public schools but you see it at private schools.
That directly reflects the climate of the times from administration but also for parents and young players. If a kid doesn’t like how things are shaking out he leaves for somewhere else the next chance he gets. That’s the way our society is now. No one wants to wait there turn or time. It used to be as a freshman that when you came to a school you played freshman ball. Sophomore you played JV, unless you were exceptional than you played varsity. Kids don’t want to wait their turn. They want to play varsity every year. People are just pushing kids out when their not ready and that’s an issue. I think it’s due to people only wanting to hear what they want and see what they want. I don’t believe in telling people what they want to hear I believe in telling people what they need to hear.
TheDribbleDrop: Offensively, what is your ideal style of play?
Coach Colicchio: Well we like to do a bit of both. We like to push the ball when we can and play at a fast pace. The thing that separates us from a lot of schools is that we run a lot of half court offenses. When we face teams that won’t allow us to run and get easy baskets, we can slow things down and pick a team apart in the half.
TheDribbleDrop: Let's talk about the shot clock. New Jersey doesn’t have one. Ideally, what do you think is best for the players?
Coach Colicchio: I would love to have a shot clock in New Jersey. It’s hard though, as 90% of the players won’t play on the next level. It’s hard to change things to only benefit the 10%.
It does really make for a better game overall though. No one wants to see a team pass the ball around for 50 passes and stall because they think the other team is better than them.
TheDribbleDrop: You have one of the best guards in the state in Tavon Jones. What are some things you try to do to free him up?
Coach Colicchio: It’s hard coaching a kid for four years. I haven’t had too many kids that I coached for that long. With him it’s about keeping things fresh. Changing drills and adding new plays to keep his interest peaked. The basketball part is easy. Off the court he’s a great kid as well.
Basketball wise he’s having one of the best senior year of anyone I have ever coached. I’ve said it before but I don’t think there is a kid in the state of New Jersey who means more to the success of their team more than Tavon means to us. I think he’s playing like he should be the player of the year in the state. I’m not saying he’s the best player, but I’m saying there’s not a kid that means more to his teams success than Tavon means to us.
TheDribbledrop: Earlier this week Mike Kinney released an article last week on the top “30 top guards in the past 30 years.” He ranked Desmond Wade as one of the top 10 guards during that time. Would you say he was the best? Want to name a starting 5 for linden since you been here?
Coach Colicchio: I don’t want to label anyone as the best. Desmond was a good player for us. Jamal Tate was a good player for us that went on to play at Penn State. In regards to the list, there was a bunch of great players left off. Like Corey Chandler for example. I will say that out of the top 10, seven went on to play in the NBA. It’s pretty remarkable the impact he had on games during his time. Wade was a really solid player who did a lot well for us.
If I were to name five: Jamaal Tate, Desmond Wade, Tavon Jones, Otis Livingston and Quadri Moore. I hate lists though!
TheDribbleDrop: If I was a new first year coach about to hit the floor for the first time, what piece of advice would you give me?
Coach Colicchio: Be yourself. Kids can recognize a phony from a mile away. If you are a yeller than yell. If you are calm than be calm. But always be yourself. Don’t compromise yourself for anybody and good things will happen.
TheDribbleDrop: How do you gauge success at Linden?
Coach Colicchio: I gauge success by kids that go on to college or trade school. Kids that go onto graduate and be successful members of society. Last year we had 10 seniors and they all went on to college at some level. Everyone went on to further their education. It’s easy to grade yourself on wins but the lives you change and the relationships you build are what matters. Life long relationships.