Boys Basketball: Patrick School and Linden meet in UCT final for second straight season
Boys basketball: Essential Links for 2014
With the way that Linden, No. 4 in The Star-Ledger Top 20, and No. 5 Patrick School have played all season long, it’s no surprise that the two squads find themselves playing for the Union County Tournament title this season for the second year in the row.
Considering Linden won both times the two squads met in the regular season, the Tigers have to like their chances. But coach Phil Colicchio says county tournament time is a different animal, especially in Union County.
As the season unfolded, I think we are the two best teams in Union County, I think we’ve proven that, Colicchio said. You could take our two wins against them earlier in the year and throw them out the window right now. They mean absolutely nothing.
It does give our kids the confidence to know that we can beat them, but it means nothing right now.
Though these teams met last season on this stage with a Chris Regus floater at the buzzer clinching it for Patrick School. Linden returns almost all the same players while Patrick School has a squad that is almost entirely new.
The stalwarts are back for Linden. Quadri Moore. Juwan Jones. Juwan Dolbrice. Alonzo Hamilton. That type of experience comes in handy when the lights are this bright.
We’ve been here before, Colicchio said. We were here last year, we played in the finals. Our kids are ready. They’re seasoned. This wasn’t a big moment.
We kind of went in there (against Plainfield in the semifinals) kind of like going to work and punched our ticket, and now we’ve got to get ready for Saturday to play basketball the same way, punch our ticket. Last year was our magic run let’s surprise everyone. This year, we’re not surprising everybody.
We’re going about our business, and I couldn’t be more happy with this team.
After making a run to the final as the fourth seed last season, Linden is the top seed and the favorite. It has the talent and the coaching to win its first title since 2007. Colicchio doesn’t just have experience as a coach in this event, he played in it with Elizabeth as well.
He’s well aware of what kind of hype comes with the event.
Playing in the county championship as a player, and coaching in it as a coach, when you walk into the county championship, the gym is mobbed and the writers are writing about it, there’s just a big thrill and a big buzz, Colicchio said. Then you add the fact that you’re playing a team like St. Patrick’s? It could be a little overwhelming at times if you’re not used to it.
We’re used to it. Kevin Boyle used to say that we were the one team in the county that every time that we played, we were going after them. He knew that he was going to be in for a dogfight no matter how much more talent they had.
We’re going to come after you.
Patrick School doesn’t have the same type of experience as Linden, but it has tons of talent. That ability and depth was on display in a convincing victory over defending T of C champion Roselle Catholic in the semifinals, the Celtics’ second straight win in the series. Four different players had at least 11 points, led by Bryce Aiken’s 18.
When we have five or more guys score double figures, or close to that, we’re tough to beat, Patrick School coach Chris Chavannes said. What’s impressive about us right now, what makes us much stronger right now, besides defending better is our freshman, Bul Ajang and Marcus McClary have been outstanding.
There were many who wondered if Aiken, who transferred from Pope John over the summer, would be able to handle the high level of play in Union County. After a slow start, he’s thriving as a scorer and a facilitator.
I’m very pleased with him, this was a challenge for him, Chavannes said. That’s one reason he wanted to come here, to help change his game and become more of a pure point guard. Against Roselle Catholic, he did a great job of being a facilitator and guarding the ball and being a leader on the floor and showing poise.
Whatever happens on Saturday, both teams will have bright prospects in the state tournaments. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that could meet in the Tournament of Champions.
But before then, the best team in one of the best counties in the state will be crowned.
We know their players, they know our players, Colicchio said. We’re going to defend, they’re going to defend. We’re going to get after them, they’re going to get after us, and may the best team win.
PREDICTION: LINDEN 66, PATRICK SCHOOL 61
This is a tough one. Linden has been the best team in Union County all season long, but Patrick School may be the hottest team in the state. And even though Linden has topped Patrick School in the previous two meetings, the Celtics have come a long way and held their own in the second game.
The biggest matchup to watch will be Patrick School’s Angel Delgado and Linden’s Quadri Moore, a battle between two of the best big men in the country. Moore has gotten the best of Delgado in the previous meetings, but Delgado has been steadily improving. Patrick School is also emphasizing him less on offense because its guards are playing so well as of late, though, which could dissipate the advantage.
When it comes down to it, I think Linden is simply too experienced to lose this game. Moore is playing the best ball of his life, and even if he’s off, the Tigers have the guards to make up for it with Juwan Jones having a great season.
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