BURLINGTON CITY – For stretches in the third quarter, Paul Collins stood on the sidelines Tuesday night with his arms folded across his chest, an iconic pose for over four decades on basketball courts in South Jersey, with a composed confidence that the game would soon unfold as he planned.
Sure enough, the game did. The discipline, the hunger, the belief that Collins has instilled in his players all these decades, flashed from his Burlington City High School boys’ basketball team with an amazing equal suddenness and decisiveness to implode a tie game into a runaway.
“It was a nice fourth quarter,” Collins said as casually as his crossed-arm sideline stance after the Blue Devils scored the final three points of the third quarter and the first 11 points of the fourth quarter to outpace New Egypt 59-42 in a matchup of top teams in the Burlington County Scholastic League Freedom Division.
“We kind of were flat in the first half. Why? I don’t have any idea,” Collins continued with his usual candor. “But I thought the second half we got better. We got better shots and we played better defense. Our defense led to offense and that’s a good thing.”
The win came just like so many other of the previous 750 in his Mt. Rushmore of South Jersey basketball coaches career. He mixed in a man defense, sometimes going full court, with a trapping half-court 1-3-1 to wear down the Warriors in the final eight and a half minutes.
After Dion Butler drained a 3-pointer to snap a 32-32 tie with 22 seconds left in the third quarter, the pressure of the Blue Devils’ traps and the pressure to make shots kept multiplying with each possession for New Egypt, which really played a smart and tough game to keep the score down and tight.
So the 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter, including six points from senior forward Jeremy Young, really was the bi-product of how Collins teaches the game: To grind defensively and take good shots offensively.
This unwavering formula has worked for 44 years now, beginning in the mid-1970’s at Willingboro for 30 seasons and then for six seasons at Riverside and now in his eighth season at Burlington City.
"It’s good being a player for him,” sturdy senior forward D’Andre Thurmond said. “He’s definitely a great coach. He’s disciplined and we all love him being our coach.
“He doesn’t break down, so we don’t break down. We follow him.”
Only two coaches in South Jersey history are ahead of Collins on the all-time winning chart – current St. Augustine’s coach Paul Rodio, who topped 900 earlier this season, and former Camden coach Clarence Turner with 775.
Collins, who is the youngest 67-year-old you will ever see on the sideline, needs just 25 more wins to move ahead of Coach Turner. The 16-2 Blue Devils could add another eight or 10 wins this season with another long state tournament run over the next five weeks, which would put him into position to move into second place by this time next season.
Predictably, though, Collins is more concerned about the next game for his Blue Devils, which improved to 9-0 in the Freedom Division. After the game, Collins apologized he couldn’t talk longer because he had to go scout his next opponent.
Yeah, Collins continues to put his players in a position to win while standing on the sideline with his arms folded and crisscrossing mental notes while watching another team play.
Even though New Egypt (12-7 and 6-3) really did a masterful job of protecting the ball and taking quality shots behind the steady and smart play of seniors Owen Raab, Quinn Kimmick, Anthony Burr, Jeff Sakimura and Connor Devine, the only junior starter, D’eonte Woodbury wouldn’t allow the Warriors’ deliberate pace to force him to start jacking up shots in an effort to spark a spurt.
“He just tells me to stay focused and let the game come to me and don’t worry about anything else,” said Woodbury, a sophomore point guard.
The game came to Woodbury, who finished with a game-high 17 points.
“We just work together,” Woodbury explained the Blue Devils’ patience. “When something breaks down, we just fix it and move forward.”
Burlington City is poised to defend its Central Jersey Group 1 crown and perhaps take the next step.
“We are not there yet,” Woodbury said when asked if the team peeks ahead, “we take it one game at a time, step-by-step.”
Like their coach.
And each step of the way, the Blue Devils know Collins will push them and believe in them with every shove and pat on the back, when he unfolds his arms.
New Egypt 8 9 15 10 - 42
Burlington City 4 17 14 24 59
NE: Owen Raab 11, Quinn Kimmick 7, Anthony Burr 11, Jeff Sakimura 6, Connor Devine 3, Richard O’Donnell 2, Shawn McCann 2.
BC: D’Andre Thurmond 10, Jeremy Young 13, D’eonte Woodbury 17, Amir Landrum 3, Jahsanti Santiago 4, Dion Butler 6, Brian Paxton 2, Sadat Turner 4.