The Linden boys’ basketball team has won state championships before – five to be exact.
The Tigers have also won consecutive state titles in the past – doing so in 2006 and 2007 (present New York Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson was a starter as a junior and senior on both of those squads).
On Sunday, March 12 at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway Linden will attempt to win its third Group 4 crown in four years.
For the Tigers it’s a stepping stone to getting closer to their ultimate goal, which is that of capturing the Tournament of Champions championship for the very first time.
Should five-peat North 2 champion Linden (25-4, has won five straight) get past South Jersey champ Shawnee (29-2, has won 14 in a row), it appears that the defending Group 4 state champion Tigers might have to beat both Non-Public state champs to win the TOC.
Linden and Shawnee tip off at noon at Rutgers in this Sunday’s (March 12) Group 4 state championship game.
Most predict the top two seeds for the TOC will be Non-Public, B state champion Patrick School No. 1 and Linden No. 2, should the Tigers repeat as Group 4 state champions. Non-Public, A state champion Don Bosco Prep may be in line to get the No. 3 seed.
If that’s the case, then Linden might have to beat Shawnee, Don Bosco Prep and then Patrick School to capture its first TOC title.
That’s some trifecta.
Linden is led by 1,000-point scorers, senior forward Khalief Crawford in the front court and junior guard Tavon Jones in the back court. Crawford reached the scoring plateau in Linden’s first state tournament win and Jones in its most recent.
One of the top players in the state and lightning quick to the hoop, Jones leads Linden with an 18-point average and he has scored over 500 points just this year. Crawford averages 15.
Fellow junior guard and lefty-shooter Mikey Watkins, who averages 10 points, is also threat from long range as is senior Marcellus Livingston off the bench. Another senior, Abraham Kromah, can also be an impact player as a non-starter.
Senior Joey Krempa runs the point and senior Kyree Rogers is the other starting forward.
Linden has only lost to Blair, went 1-2 vs. Patrick School and to Montverdi Academy, Fla.
Linden head coach Phil Colicchio, at the helm since the 1997-1998 season, has now guided the Tigers to the Group 4 state championship game seven times in his 20 seasons. Colicchio, who won his 400th game when Linden defeated Atlantic City 54-45 in last year’s Group 4 final at Rutgers, has led the Tigers to all five of their state championships. He is 5-1 in the Group 4 final, with the only loss coming in overtime.
On Sunday, March 12 vs. Shawnee Colicchio will be going after victory No. 428.
Shawnee, which began 13-0 before losing at Camden by one and then three games later at Lenape by four (the Renegades rebounded to beat Lenape by 13 the second time around), has also won five state championships – four in Group 4 and one in Group 3.
The first four came in Group 4 – 1992, 1995, 1996 and 2001 – and the last one in Group 3 – 2007. From 1992 to 1996 Shawnee made the Group 4 final four out of five times, going 3-1.
Shawnee was the second of only four public schools to win the TOC, doing so in 1992. Elizabeth was the first in 1990, Orange the third in 1994 and Camden the fourth in 2000. In 1992 Marist won Parochial B, snapping St. Anthony’s nine-year run, and was then later defeated by Shawnee in the TOC final.
Head coach Joe Kessler’s Shawnee squad, unlike Linden, does not boast a single senior starter. This year’s standout squad from Medford and Burlington County is sparked by the play of junior forward Dylan Deveney, who leads the team with a 17-point scoring average. Junior guard Dean Noll averages 15 and fellow junior guard Sean Heine and junior forward Daevon Robinson both 10. The other starter is sophomore guard Pat Kernan.
Shawnee, like Linden, prefers to play man defense. Should Heine (67 3s) and Deveney (63) get hot from downtown, that could be problematic for Linden.
LINDEN IN THE GROUP 4 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
UNDER HEAD COACH PHIL COLICCHIO:
2016: Linden 54, Atlantic City 45 – at Rutgers
2014: Linden 66, Trenton 53 – at Rutgers
2013: Atlantic City 60, Linden 54 (OT) – at Rutgers
2007: Linden 63, South Brunswick 54 – at Rutgers
2006: Linden 64, Atlantic City 39 – at Rutgers
2000: Linden defeated Bridgewater-Raritan
NOTES: Linden is 5-6 overall in group state championship games (5-3 in Group 4 and 0-3 in Group 3) and Colicchio 5-1 – all in Group 4.
Linden lost the 1958, 1978 and 2013 Group 4 finals and the 1953, 1954 and 1982 Group 3 finals.
Linden is 5-5 in five Tournament of Champions competitions, including 0-2 in the final.
UNDER HEAD COACH PHIL COLICCHIO:
Linden is 5-1 in the Group 4 state championship game:
Wins: 2000, 2006, 2007, 2014, 2016.
Linden is 9-4 in North 2, Group 4 finals.
Wins: 2000, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.
Losses: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008.
Linden is 3-8 in Union County Tournament finals.
Wins: 2001, 2007, 2015.
Losses: 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017.