Bruce Leads Linden Into The Cicarell Finals

By Jim Whelan

In sports, you can always make the argument whether a buy week hurts or helps a team.  From the outside looking in, if you look at Linden High School’s Watchung Conference schedule, you might think that they would see everything during the course of a season.  Veteran Linden Coach Colicchio knows to win championships you have to play many different teams to get “tournament ready.”

As well as playing Watchung Conference foes Union, Elizabeth, Plainfield, and Scotch Plains, Linden played a schedule hell that included two weeks of playing the area’s top teams.  The Tigers faced off against number one St. Anthony’s, Bishop Laughlin, Mount Vernon, N.Y., and St. Raymond’s.  All four teams, like Linden, are ranked in the top twenty in the tri-state region.

  Colicchio said that there were two reasons for the schedule. “One, when we get to tournament time we have seen everything possible that a team can throw at us and two, it showcases our players for college coaches,” said the Linden coach. 

After a Linden win over the St. Raymond Ravens, 6’9” junior center David Bruce was offered scholarships from five schools.  St Joseph’s University coach Phil Martelli was in the stands to watch Bruce.  Martelli offered Bruce his first scholarship.

Starting the season off with a loss against Plainfield, the Tigers really learned a lot about themselves and what they needed to improve on.  “I think some coaches today are afraid of scheduling losses,” said the 42-year-old coach. “I am not afraid of scheduling losses.” 

Colicchio’s strategy has paid off so far as the Tigers defeated Union in the semi-finals of the Union County Cicarell Tournament.  Linden avenged a regular season loss to the Union Framers and earned the the right to play St. Patrick’s.  Both teams know each other very well.  Linden defeated St. Patrick’s last year to earn Colicchio his second county championship.

Before Linden took the court last Wednesday, Colicchio addressed the team but said, “there really wasn’t anything I say to the team that would get them more prepared for a semi-final game in the county championship.” Linden changed up their defense from their previous meeting where Union center Travis Taylor had 27 points. After a tight first half, the game was tied at 22.

The Tigers defense held the Framers to only two points in the third quarter.  “We always pride ourselves in being a good defensive team and holding a team under 40 points” said Colicchio. 

Colicchio credits a lot of success to the exposure that he had as an assistant under Bennie Candelino and the group of coaches at Elizabeth High School.  “As a young coach I was exposed to very good coaching at Elizabeth High,” Colicchio said.  Roc, Fire, Korn, Jerry and Bennie as they are so eloquently named or John LaRocca, Bob Firestone, Ray Korn, Jerry Moore and Bennie Candelino were the core of coaches are Elizabeth High school in the 1980s that won championships in every sport multiple times. 

“Whenever a need an offensive play I call Fire or John and Bennie is probably one of the best basketball coaches in New Jersey” said the former Elizabeth JV coach.  Firestone was the Elizabeth’s girls coach and John LaRocca is Colicchio’s long time friend who he still relies whenever he needs an offensive scheme. 

Before the Union game, Collichio challenged his junior center, David Bruce, and Bruce met the challenge.  Taylor was held to ten points in the Tiger win. “I credit all of all players to keeping their assignments” said Colicchio.  Union did not go down without a fight.  A turnover tipped into east basket started the 14-2 Framers run.  Senior forward Thomas Goubadia hit some outside shots and Aishon White hit a jumper to tie the game at 38.

“Instead of us attacking them, they started attacking us and we became a little hesitant,” Colicchio said about the Farmer run.  Senior guard Desmond Wade did not have a good offensive game came down and got fouled and hit a one and one and then a couple defensive stops put the game away.  Colicchio told Wade before the game he wanted ten assists from the Houston–bound guard.  D- Wade had nine, which helped in the Tigers return to the county finals.  “I credit our kids but our schedule really helped in the win,” Colicchio said.

Linden beat St. Raymond’s, but not before St Raymond’s hit a shot to send the game into overtime, which is one of five games Linden had in overtime.  “Our kids don’t panic,” the coach said. With the ball in his hands, Wade didn’t panic and once again led the Tigers.  Linden will face off against St. Pat’s at the Dunne Center 3 p.m. on Saturday.

With 19.9 seconds in the game a fight broke in the stands behind the Linden bench.  The arena was cleared and the Elizabeth police and both schools security teams removed the parties involved.  No students from either school were taken into custody and no fans sustained injures during the melee.   Colicchio credits the Elizabeth Police Department for protecting his players and turning a potentially dangerous situation into a swift and isolated incident,              

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