Colicchio will coach against Linden for first time tonight, Jan. 7, as undefeated Elizabeth hosts UCC-Watchung Division clash at Dunn Center

ELIZABETH – What makes tonight’s Union County Conference-Watchung Division boys basketball game that pits Linden (4-3) at Elizabeth (6-0) newsworthy?
This is the first time second-year Elizabeth head coach Phil Colicchio is coaching against Linden on the varsity level.
At Linden, from the 1997-1998 season through the 2017-2018 campaign Colicchio won over 400 games in 21 seasons and guided the Tigers to all six of their Group 4 state championships.
Elizabeth and Linden were in different UCC divisions last year and did not schedule a crossover. They did not meet in the Union County Tournament.
They will clash at the Dunn Center tonight in what should be a full house.
Yes, Colicchio and the success of the Minutemen – 32-2 since Phil took over – has the Dunn Center rocking once more.
This game has been anticipated ever since Colicchio was hired at his alma mater, Class of 1984, last year. The Watchung Division game at Linden one month from now, Feb. 4, will be just as anticipated when for the first time Colicchio coaches against Linden on the court named after him.
Elizabeth is just looking to continue playing good basketball and seeking to go 7-0. Linden, guided by Colicchio’s longtime assistant Anthony Drejaj, will also be looking to step up its game in an atmosphere that should be nothing short of highly-electric.
Colicchio wants to make one thing clear: “this is not about me. I’m not going out there and scoring any points, I’m just coaching.
“You can’t erase 21 years of my life (at Linden). They were great years with great players and great fans and administrators. That will always be a big part of me.
“We did so many great things at Linden. You can take the name off the court, but you can’t erase the memories. Like I said the night of the court dedication, you can put my name on it, but all my former players should have their names on it as well.”
As for his team’s 6-0 start, this is what Colicchio said: “I would say four of them are quality wins. Don Bosco Prep and Wildwood Catholic are two very good teams and our out-of-state wins were tremendous.”
Elizabeth defeated one team from North Carolina and two from Maryland over the break.
“Against one of them we were down by 15 and came back,” Colicchio said. “These kids believe in the system.
“Jordon Price (senior forward-guard) has been outstanding and has picked up right where he left off, averaging a double-double. DJ Watkins (senior guard) is still improving. Jordan is committed to New Haven and Watkins is just waiting to decide. We also have some good young kids.”
At the top of that list is former Patrick School player, sophomore guard Jayden Pierre.
“Jayden is as good as any sophomore in the state,” Colicchio said. “His basketball IQ is off the charts.
‘Pascal Dodard (junior forward) covers the opponents’ top player and Gil Moria (junior forward) has gone from not playing on JV last year to starting on varsity, which is quite a leap. He worked all summer to get better and better.”
Off the bench standouts so far include Evan Perez, a junior guard who previously played at St. Mary’s, Elizabeth and sophomore forward Zyree Beverly.
“Zyree has unlimited potential,” Colicchio said. “He did a great job against the kid from Wildwood Catholic (Taj Thweatt) going to West Virginia.
“What has surprised me so far is how mature our young kids are. We could have lost our second game to Don Bosco, they had us by about 10, but the kids didn’t panic. They believe in what we’re doing.
“They really listen well as a group. In my 31 years I don’t think I’ve had a team like this that has been extremely close on and off the court.
“If I had a team like this every year, and I’m not talking talent, I would coach for another 20. That’s how easy they are to coach.”
Linden is led by seniors Amir Williams and Nashawn Holmes.
Yesterday was Drejaj’s birthday.
“I always wish Anthony all the best except when he plays us, obviously,” Colicchio said. “When I retire I want to see him win state championships. He’s a good, young coach. He’s not in an easy spot.”
There’s no doubt when he brings his Elizabeth team on Phil Colicchio Court at Linden in a month that the memories of so many victories and good times there will come flooding back.
“It will definitely be emotional,” Colicchio said. “I didn’t lose any friends. I am still friends now with the people I was friends with there. Anthony and I still have a great relationship.
“I have very fond memories of everything that happened there. My children still wear Linden basketball clothing.”
Elizabeth was 23-0 before losing to Patrick School 48-39 in last year’s UCT semifinals at Kean. The Minutemen could have lost on Opening Night to Rutgers Prep, or to Union Catholic in a triple-overtime affair or also at home in the Prime Time Shootout to a CBA team in which Elizabeth scored the final 12 points to win by one.
“What would the odds in Vegas have been that we would have gone 26-2 last year? Everything fell in place, starting with our very first game,” Colicchio said.
The second loss was a 50-48 setback at home to eventual Group 4 champion Newark East Side in the North 2, Group 4 state championship game at Dunn.
Many are predicting that Elizabeth is good enough to go on and win that game this year and then win one more time to play for the Group 4 state championship at Rutgers. Elizabeth last won Group 4 in 1991, almost 30 years ago. The Minutemen last appeared in the Group 4 final in 1995, 25 years ago.
“I expect what I expect from all my teams,” Colicchio said. “What I demand of them is for them to play hard. They knew me and played against me and I know their relatives and they wanted to win. These Elizabeth kids want to win.
“We want the kids to buy into the system. It’s the same stuff I’ve always preached.
“I am who I am.”

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