So now that Phil Colicchio is the head coach at his alma mater Elizabeth, how does the 1984 Elizabeth graduate begin to get the Minutemen to play his style of basketball?
“It starts this summer in our summer league,” said Colicchio, who for the past 21 seasons guided the Linden boys’ to six Group 4 state championships, nine North 2, Group 4 titles and three Union County Tournament crowns.
Colicchio and his staff turned Linden into the premier public school program in the state the past two decades.
“We will immediately concentrate on winning,” Colicchio, 52, said. “Winning will be expected. That’s how we were able to beat teams when I was at Linden.
“The players have to get that and when they do good things will happen.”
This is not the first time Colicchio is coaching at Elizabeth. He was a very successful junior varsity coach at Elizabeth for a decade during the final years of head coach Ben Candelino’s run as the varsity’s highly-successful mentor. Colicchio guided the Elizabeth JV team to seven straight UCT championships.
After 11 years as a student at St. Mary’s in Elizabeth, Colicchio moved on to Elizabeth High School for his senior year of 1983-1984. As Candelino’s point guard, he helped lead the Minutemen to the 1984 UCT championship, which was the first of four straight (1984-1987) and eight of nine (1984-1987 and 1989-1992) Candelino guided the Minutemen to.
Colicchio’s staff includes Marty Luc, who was the head coach at Rahway for a brief time and has been with Colicchio for some time now; Darryl Lampley, a 2007 graduate who was a standout player for Colicchio and Mike Pozyc, who was Linden’s junior varsity coach.
“Those are guys I can trust,” Colicchio said. “If I didn’t have either Marty or (Linden assistant coach) Anthony (Drejaj) coming over with me I wouldn’t have done this.”
Colicchio said that there are also a couple of guys from last year’s Elizabeth staff that he will talk to. The head coach he is succeeding, former Elizabeth standout athlete Donald Stewart, will not be one of them.
Stewart, who coached under Colicchio for one year in 2006, guided the Minutemen to a 7-17 record this past winter, which was the third season of his second stint at the helm of the MInutemen. During his first stint he guided Elizabeth to its last UCT championship, which came in 2004.
Two seasons before that, present Bloomfield head coach Pat Brunner guided the Minutemen to their 2002 UCT crown. Candelino led Elizabeth to a ninth UCT title in 1995, which was his last.
Elizabeth has won the most UCT crowns with 21. St. Patrick is second with 20 and Linden third at 11.
Elizabeth’s last bonafide season was in 2011-2012 when the Minutemen last won North 2, Group 4 and then reached the Group 4 final. Elizabeth finished 3-20 for the 2016-2017 campaign.
Colicchio’s title at Elizabeth will be that of Coordinator of Athletics and Special Events. Luc’s title is Supervisor of Athletics. Candelino became the Director of Athletics a little over a year ago.
“For the past 20 years it’s been talked about whether or not I might coach at Elizabeth,” Colicchio said. “There was no plan to leave Linden, I absolutely love the city.
“From the superintendents to the mayors, everyone had been so supportive. With Ben now at Elizabeth, the timing was right.
“It was the toughest decision in my entire life. There were so many lasting memories at Linden. It was the change in athletic administration and I will leave it at that.
“You have to be happy. For 20 years (at Linden) the first 18 were great and the past two my wife told me I was complaining a lot.”
If Colicchio was going to leave Linden for another high school, it was going to be his alma mater.
“If there was any place to go Elizabeth makes sense,” Colicchio said. “I wouldn’t go to any other high school.”
How often did you think about the possibility of coaching in college, Phil?
“I got this from Coach (Bob) Hurley – stick at what you’re good at,” Colicchio said. “I’ve always felt that I could make a bigger difference coaching high school kids.”
For those clamoring to see when Elizabeth will play Linden this winter, it won’t be during the regular season. The only possible meetings will be in the UCT and or the North 2, Group 4 playoffs.
Elizabeth and Plainfield dropped out of the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division and down to the Mountain. Moving up to the Watchung from the Mountain was St. Mary’s, Elizabeth.
So the Watchung Division will consist of defending champion Roselle Catholic, The Patrick School, Linden and St. Mary’s. The Mountain Division now includes Elizabeth, Plainfield, Union, Westfield and Union Catholic.
“Elizabeth vs. Linden is the best (basketball) rivalry in Union County,” Colicchio said.
If Elizabeth and Linden should meet in the UCT, it most likely won’t be a game played at Linden High School’s Phil Colicchio Court.
Colicchio will support Drejaj, who played his high school ball at Seton Hall Prep, for any head coaching position.
“Anthony is a great, young coach,” Colicchio said. “He’s a great person. He’s like a little brother to me, I love him. He’s sort of in the kind of situation I was in 20 years ago. If he does stay on at Linden it will be a whole new staff. That is not going to be easy.”
Colicchio recalled his assistant coaches at Linden going back to Monty Brooks.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we would win six Group 4 state championships,” Colicchio said. “It’s almost surreal.
“Anyone can get lucky and win one. I had great kids who were great players and I had great assistants. I just tried not to get in the way.”
When asked what he felt was his greatest win at Linden, Colicchio couldn’t isolate any one triumph.
“I have three kids and that would be like asking me which is my favorite? Whichever team I’m coaching that day,” Colicchio said.
“We’ve had wins over nationally ranked teams such as St. Anthony, Roselle Catholic and St. Patrick. We’ve won with undersized kids who had the grit to pull victories out.
“I was never afraid to schedule losses. I wanted the kids to have the opportunity to play those kinds of teams with the hope of getting us ready for the state playoffs.
“One win that gets lost in the shuffle was when we won the county in 2001.”
In the 2001 UCT championship game, Linden came back with a big fourth quarter to stun five-time defending champion St. Patrick 76-59 at the Dunn Sport Center. It was the first of three UCT titles Colicchio guided the Tigers to – the first two over St. Patrick and the last one against Roselle Catholic.
“We had just won the school’s first state championship in 2000 and lost some really good players to graduation, including who I think was the best player in the history of the school in Jamaal Tate (Penn State),” Colicchio said.
“It was at that time that I felt we were a program and that we were here to stay. We were not going away.”
Another win Colicchio alluded to was Linden’s 46-42 triumph over top-seeded Bloomfield Tech in the 2006 Tournament of Champions semifinals at Rutgers, which was Linden’s first year in the TOC. BT was in its second TOC and nationally ranked at the time.
Another big-time Linden moment under Colicchio was its 63-51 – leading from start to finish – win over top-seeded and two-time defending champion St. Patrick in the 2007 UCT final at Dunn. St. Patrick was nationally ranked at the time and ended up finishing 30-2 after repeating as TOC champions. That Linden win prevented St. Patrick from finishing No. 1 in the country at season’s end.
Linden produced a 30-3 record for 2006-2007, with its season ending at Rutgers on a half-court, buzzer-beating shot by Bloomfield Tech’s R.J. Hall in the TOC semifinals.
Thirty years of coaching in now, Colicchio looks forward to another challenge, that of getting his alma mater back on top.
“If I still didn’t have the passion I would stop immediately,” Colicchio said. “I joked the past couple of years, saying that if we won the TOC I would retire on the spot.
“I grew up in Elizabeth. There are now seven schools (houses) and 6,200 kids (at the high school). If I can’t find 10 kids to play . . . “
Elizabeth was led on Opening Night last season by junior guard Julius David, who poured in a game-high 28 points in leading the Minutemen to a 67-63 overtime win at Union in the third annual St. Jude Classic at Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium.
David, who went on to average 10 points, scored seven of his 28 points in OT, including his game-high sixth 3-pointer that gave Elizabeth the lead for good at 59-58.
“I’m not going to Elizabeth to lose,” Colicchio said. “I’m not a patient man. I’m not looking at taking 2-3 years to get better.”
Colicchio, who won at Linden preaching defense first, second and third, said he brought his Elizabeth swagger to Linden.
Now he gets the opportunity to bring his Linden swagger back to Elizabeth.
“We will be competing right from the very first game,” Colicchio said.
DID YOU KNOW? Phil Colicchio played on the St. Mary’s, Elizabeth baseball team his junior year that captured the 1983 Parochial B state championship. The head coach of that team was Ben Candelino.
LINDEN IN THE GROUP 4 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
UNDER HEAD COACH PHIL COLICCHIO (6-1):
2017: Linden 57, Shawnee 41 – at Rutgers
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 6-6 overall in group state championship games (6-3 in Group 4 and 0-3 in Group 3) and Colicchio went 6-1 – all in Group 4.
Linden lost the 1958, 1978 and 2013 Group 4 finals and the 1953, 1954 and 1982 Group 3 finals.
Linden went 5-6 in its six Tournament of Champions competitions under Colicchio, including 0-2 (2006 loss to St. Patrick and 2016 loss to St. Anthony) in the final.
UNDER HEAD COACH PHIL COLICCHIO:
Linden went 6-1 in the Group 4 state championship game.
Wins: 2000, 2006, 2007, 2014, 2016, 2017.
Linden won Group 4 back-to-back twice and from 2013-2017 reached
the final four times in five years. From 2014-2017 Linden won the final
three times in four years.
Linden went 9-5 in North 2, Group 4 finals.
Wins: 2000, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.
Losses: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2018.
Linden won North 2, Group 4 five years in a row from 2013-2017
and six out of seven years from 2011-2017.
From 2013-2018 Linden won 23 straight N2, G4 games before falling
in the 2018 final at Newark East Side.
Linden went 3-8 in Union County Tournament finals.
Wins: 2001, 2007, 2015.
Losses: 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017.
Linden reached the final 11 of Colicchio’s 21 seasons
(1997-98 – 2017-18) at the helm of the Tigers.
Colicchio’s record is 450-165 (.732).
He went 12-11 in his first year as
a head coach at Barringer in 1996-97.