BY TIM MORRIS
When Ed Wicelinski first replaced Vinnie Cox as the head coach of the Christian Brothers Academy boys basketball team, he marveled at how his mentor could have spent 20 years in the position.
“I never would have thought I would spend that much time coaching,” he said. “When I first took over and I saw the passion and the amount of work and time you put in, I couldn’t imagine how you could spend 20 years at it.”
He didn’t. Wicelinski would spent 27 years at the helm of the program that Cox had built, and put his own stamp on a team that became symbolic with excellence not just in the Shore Conference, but the state as well.
For just the second time in 47 years, CBA is looking for a new head basketball coach now that Wicelinski, sensing that it was time, stepped down as the Colts head coach.
“It’s taken a toll,” Wicelinski said of his 27 years as head coach in Lincroft. “I’m not sure I’m doing it as well as I used to. I am mentally, physically and emotionally ready after 27 memory-filled, but nonetheless stressful seasons. I ended the last two years physically ill, which is an indication that my body isn’t handling the stress and length of the season as well as it used to.
“It’s a decision I’ve made intelligently, not emotionally,” he added.
Thus ends, perhaps the most successful coaching tenure in Shore Conference history. With a career record of 625 wins and just 116 losses, he has a record he can match up with anyone. In his 27 years, the Colts have won nine NJSIAA South Jersey state sectional titles (including the last three consecutive) and three Parochial state championships. His teams won 14 Shore Conference Tournament titles in 20 trips to the finals in the 25 seasons the team has been in the conference. CBA won 23 A North Division titles and had an overall division record of 333-12. This past season, Wicelinski did one of his finest coaching jobs, nursing an unsettled lineup along until he got all of the pieces to fit together. The team ended up 23-8, advancing to the SCT final and winning the South Jersey parochial crown.
The “Wiz,” as Wicelinski has been called, coached some of the finest players to play in the Shore Conference, and who went on to fine college careers – players like John Crotty (University of Virginia), Joe Paterno (Fordham), Marc Dowdell (Villanova), Keith Kurowski (Notre Dame), Tim Begley (University of Pennsylvania), Dan Werner (Florida), Geoff Billett (Rutgers) Brian Lynch (Villanova) and Todd Billet (Virginia).
What Wicelinski is proudest of is his program’s record of consistency. Since joining the SC, every senior has played in a SCT final. In 23 of his 27 seasons, the Colts won at least 20 games, and they were never close to a losing season (16-9 was his worst won-lost season).
CBA has done this despite taking everyone’s best shot. Every team has CBA circled on its schedule and can make their season with a win over the Colts. Wicelinski said that the Colts accept that and the high expectations that go with wearing a CBA uniform. No one’s expectations are higher than their own. Living up to the CBA standard, he said, is “part of the fun.”
“CBA is a great place to be,” he said. “It’s a fabulous community.”
A native of New York City, Wicelinski began his coaching career at Christian Brothers institutes in NYC at Bishop Loughlin (1965) and Manhattan College (1969), before moving to New Jersey, assisting Cox, in the middle of his legendary career at CBA. When Cox stepped down after the 1980 season, the 31-year-old Wicelinski was named the new head coach. He would follow his mentor, forging his own legendary career over three decades.
Wicelinski credits Cox for giving him his commitment to coaching.
“Vinnie Cox fueled that passion [for coaching],” he said.
One thing that Wicelinski is looking forward to is the chance to kick back and reflect on his years at CBA and all of the players who have played for him.
“I never had a lot of time to look back,” he pointed out. “Two weeks after the end of the season, it’s on to next year, scheduling, getting players into college and starting the off-season lifting program.”
Then there is summer basketball and camps, and before you know it another season.
With time now on his side, Wicelinski plans on renewing old friendships that he made that there just wasn’t enough time to sow.
“I want to go back and reconnect with the friends I’ve made – I’m looking forward to that actually,” he noted.
Wicelinski knows what awaits CBA’s new head coach. He was in that position, replacing Cox. The word on the street will be that it’s not the same old CBA without Wicelinski on the bench.
“When Vinnie Cox stepped down, there was a challenge and I had the players take it personally – that’s what my first season was all about,” said Wicelinski. “That’s the same challenge now. CBA basketball is bigger than any one person.”
That it may be. But Wicelinski has left large shoes to fill, and the Shore Conference has lost a legendary coach.