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Tigers Sports

Finding Edge In ‘End-Game' Means Coach & Guard Combo By Steve Tober For sidelinechatter.com

Posted Friday, February 29, 2008 by By Steve Tober For sidelinechatter.com

Finding Edge In ‘End-Game’
Means Coach & Guard Combo
By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

If you’ve watched state tournament games over the years there is frequently no mystery to what decides which teams survive and keep advancing and why other ones wind up on the short end and go home for the final time in the course of a season.

Late-game coaching decisions can be huge, but more often than not the temperament and execution of the guards, avoiding that unnecessary turnover, converting that last second shot, or putting oneself in position to make a critical free throw frequently decides an eventual champion.

How many times have you seen a team with the ball up one or down a point call a timeout with 30 seconds left and then almost immediately turn the ball over after the inbounds play, or, in the process of protecting a four or six point lead with two minutes left, fail to utilize the greatest ally of all in New Jersey high school basketball: the lack of a shot clock!

After recently watching a top 10 team with a 10-point lead and two minutes left almost relinquish its lead because it had either no comprehension or-at least-appreciation of simply having the luxury to eat up clock, it reminded us once again of why coaches such as Bob Hurley of St. Anthony and Bob Farrell of Seton Hall Prep almost never lose a close game.

They simply know how to handle end-game situations and they have the guards to put the finishing touches of a victory firmly in place.

And, it doesn’t have to be a cagey veteran such as Travon Woodall of the Friars or Desmond Wade of Linden running the show in order to successfully close the deal. Young guards involved in this year’s state tourney, such as sophomores Dom Coiro of Passaic Valley and freshman Sterling Gibbs of SHP, have that precocious persistence and innate ability to complete the deal, even at the still developing stages of their relatively new high school careers.

As we continue this week to witness teams both execute and self-destruct, control clock and ignore its strategic presence, grasp the changing tempo and adjust accordingly, use timeouts wisely and just know when to let one’s kids run their stuff and be creative, there are certain coaches that simply get it.

And, that doesn’t mean a capable coach or a terrific guard can’t have a brain lock or commit a critical turnover or miss a last-second shot. End-game mistakes occur at every level of basketball and scholastic coaches and 17-year-old players are certainly not immune to faltering on occasion, and in heartbreaking fashion, no matter what your name is.

However, when you watch a nail-biting finish in the current offering of Jersey high school hoops state play-which very likely will occur in this first, frenetic week of the tournament which is frequently the best week of the season-you’re reminded once again of who makes the best use of the rules, the talent and the tempo.

Here are some of the best involved in the current state tourney:

Top coaches from the old guard:

Bob Hurley, St. Anthony: Sure, he has an advantage of attracting the best talent, but since the days of Mandy Johnson and David Rivers the dean of New Jersey high school coaches simply understands great guard play wins at the high school level, and his backcourt performers never let up, and rarely cost him a game.

Bob Farrell, Seton Hall Prep: the newest member of the 700-win club will have a tough task in winning this year’s Non-Public, North A crown since he’ll have to beat some pretty good teams on the road; but with guards like the Gibbs brothers, particularly the torrid-shooting Pitt-bound Ashton, and an ability to dictate pace in most instances, his Pirates almost always have a shot to win at the end.

Jim Baglin, Mendham: Flying under the radar at times because he coaches out there in suburban Morris County, “Bags’” Minutemen are always in the mix, and this season’s all-underclassmen lineup has already won a Morris County Tournament title, and could wind up being an obstacle for either Scotch Plains and/or Rahway in North 2, Group 3. Regardless of how far Mendham ultimately does go, Bags has the ability to out-coach talented rivals down the stretch of any game and can deftly decipher the nuances of the officiating on a particular night.

Milt Gaylord, Science Park: Perhaps underappreciated for his full body of work and maintaining a consistency that has changed very little in almost a quarter century, Gaylord has a solid grasp on how to win playing at different paces and with a varying array of talents on hand. As he displayed once again in his team’s first-ever Essex County Tournament championship victory over SHP, making key adjustments before and during a contest is part of the package he offers.

Jim Ring, Paterson Kennedy: There are few coaches in New Jersey high school basketball who simply get it as well as Ring when it comes to relating to high school players. He’s a very capable coach when it comes to x’s and o’s, but he also realizes as well as anyone how to deal with kids, who will make mistakes. He has the patience, persistence and dedication to the program concept to remain a steadying presence as those same players who made late-game miscues simply make better choices the next time around.

Coaches who’ve emerged in the New Millennium:

Phil Colicchio, Linden: Colorful and quotable, the Tigers’ guiding force has emerged as one of the state’s best coaches since 2000 and his back-to-back Group 4 state crowns are testament to his talents. Sure, he has one of the all-time great floor generals in Desmond Wade, but he also has an ability to grasp the changes in tempo inherent in the course of a game, and make the necessary adjustments.

Pat Brunner, Bloomfield: Elizabeth is still regretting the day it let him move on, and after serving as a top assistant at Bloomfield Tech for a few memorable seasons, Brunner has emerged as a coach to watch once again at Bloomfield where he has taken a program out of the ashes and has the team pointed directly in a positive direction, including this season’s impressive squad led by star Jamil Goodwin. Like Colicchio, he understands the game’s inherent changes in terms of pace, he makes adjustments amid the glare of the lights and the noise of the crowd, and his end-game decisions usually make loads of sense.

Rob Carcich, Passaic Valley: One of the rising stars in suburban hoops circles, who took a Hornets’ team on an improbable journey to the Group 3 state final last year based on late-game smarts and incredible guard play, and now has a team that has no right being as productive as it is, winning a first-round state tourney game at Teaneck and once again riding the backcourt prowess of the new guard, sophomore Dom Coiro.

Eugene “Bam” Robinson, Irvington: Yeah, we know, Bam’s Blue Knights went out in the first round to a bigger and better Union team; however, his work with an Irvington team that lacked any single star and yet played everyone tough in a rigorous Watchung Conference schedule showed how this young coach is continuing to get the best out of his players, who always come to play and give it all from start to finish.

Todd Ervin, Chatham: Okay, he may not have had one of his best nights against Mendham’s Baglin in the late going of the MCT semis, but Ervin has proven the past few seasons how good a coach he has actually been for many years, highlighted, of course, by last season’s historic run by his Cougars on the way to a Group 2 state championship. This Billy Oliver-led team is not as good, but it is dangerous in the tourney, boosted by Ervin’s ability to dictate a game plan, utilize the talent on hand and execute in end-game situations.

Best guards at crunch time in the current state tournament:

Desmond Wade, Linden: Stronger and better than ever, the 5-9 Wade is the type of player who will do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s canning a huge trey, driving to the hoop for a twisting layup or to pick up a foul, or making a great bounce pass inside to one of his teammates to score. As a pure playmaker and on-ball defender, he has as good a grasp of what has to be done at crunch time as any guard in New Jersey.

Travon Woodall, St. Anthony: Perhaps overshadowed-if that’s possible-by his four other Division I backcourt members with the Friars, Woodall is a veritable defensive stopper and adept in the open court as a playmaker or finisher. He plays with the type of intensity we’ve become accustomed to with Hurley-coached teams over the years and is as good a guard as there is at crunch time.

Ashton Gibbs, Seton Hall Prep: When it comes to a big shot to be made, there is no one you’d rather have pull up and hoist it from the 3-point line han Woodall’s future Pitt teammate. Not the ball handler that Wade or Woodall are, Gibbs is still money in the bank down the stretch of a big game and don’t be dismayed by his zero field goals against Science Park in the ECT finals. He remains a player to count on in any big situations.

Kyle Smyth, Don Bosco Prep: One of the main reasons the Ironmen have won a host of close games in the rigorous NNJIL is because of their Iona-bound senior guard, who can make a big shot as well as anyone this side of SHP’s Gibbs and has the unique ability to get to the line at just the right time along with the aforementioned Wade. The Iona-bound Smyth is the perfect complementary backcourt performer to any top-notch playmaker and his ability in end-game, final ticks of the clock, make Bosco a difficult out in Non-Public, North A.

Kenneth Ortiz, Science Park: He may not be the pure playmaker or ultra-accurate perimeter threat of some of his top competitors, but Ortiz is a difference maker because he is a trigger for all that occurs both pressure-wise and pace-wise for a very good team. If you’re looking for a defensive-minded guard this side of St. Anthony’s Woodall, Ortiz is your man, and he’s an efficient-enough offensive player to be a big factor down the stretch of a big game.

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