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Columbia will be battling against Kelly Hogan (right) and its arch rival Seton Hall Prep Pirates in one of the featured contests in this Saturday night's (6:30 p.m. scheduled tip-off) annual Hoop Group Tip-Off Showcase at West Orange High School as the brand new Eugene "Bam" Robinson coaching tenure begins for the Maplewood-South Orange school. (Photo by Richard Morris/SHP)

Bam Robinson established his imprint as impactful sideline presence in 12 seasons of guiding the Irvington Blue Knights to much success on the hardwood. (Photo by Greg Corbo-corbosport.com)

Senior guard Michael Racine (13) is the featured returning player for the Columbia Cougars who look to establish themselves among the hierarchy in the SEC. (Photo by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

Columbia Vs.SHP In Tip-Off Classic
As Bam Robinson Era Gets Underway
By Steve Tober
For sidelinechatter.com

Columbia High School basketball has had talent through the years, whether it was Mark Bryant and the Kelly brothers, Owen and Jeff, in the early 1980s, or Jameel Grace, Ryan Bacon and others in more recent seasons.

Yet, despite reaching three of the past four Essex County Tournament Final Fours, and a North 2, Group 4 state sectional semifinal last March, that something little extra –whatever intangible it was - seemed to be missing at crunch time in some of the bigger games for the Cougars, who frequently fell just a bit short of their ultimate goal.

Enter Eugene “Bam” Robinson, the former Irvington coach, who resigned in ‘Camptown’ last March after 12 seasons at the helm of Blue Knights’ basketball, with designs of simply being ‘Mr. Dad’ while focusing on following the progress of his talented son, current Columbia freshman football and basketball player Brandon, as the youngster continues his development in Cougar country.

However, the powers that be at Columbia had other ideas, and when they opened up the head coaching position last March after deciding to go in a different direction rather than sticking with Eddie Turner, who had been the Cougars’ coach for four seasons, Robinson, an 11-year resident of Maplewood, was almost too much of a natural fit not to rethink what he was doing and ultimately both apply for and then accept the vacant head coaching position.

Others with solid coaching resumes applied; however, Columbia Athletic Director Larry Busichio and the administrators involved at the Maplewood-South Orange school could not get away from the idea of having the ever-enthusiastic and passionate Robinson, who was available, take over the reins of the Cougar boys hoops program and instill his own unique brand of inspiration for the young men who seek to play basketball for the high school which is also the alma mater for such far-ranging stars as the late actor Roy Scheider ("The French Connection," "Jaws" and "All That Jazz") and former Melrose Place TV star Andrew Shue and his sister, film and television actress Elisabeth Shue ("CSI," "Leaving Las Vegas").

Bam Robinson may not be a TV star but he is an undeniable energizing presence, who has been one of Essex County’s more highly-regarded basketball coaches for the last decade. Now, the 40-year-old former Irvington standout player and coach is set for an intriguing start to his new era as the 2014-2015 Cougars host an always challenging University High Friday afternoon in their opener before making the short trek over to West Orange on Saturday to take on eternal nemesis Seton Hall Prep, 6:30 p.m., in the annual Hoop Group Tip-Off Classic.

Columbia had not beaten the Pirates in three years prior to last Dec. 22nd’s exciting 46-43 overtime win against SHP in the 2013 Hoop Group Tip-Off Classic at West Orange. Before that, the last time the Cougars had beaten SHP was 66-56 in the Tip-Off Classic, back on Dec. 19 of 2010 at Seton Hall University’s Walsh Gym.

There will be nine games packed in a tight but very attractive schedule (see full slate with tentative starting times below) for this weekend’s Tip-Off Classic, with teams taking center stage at West Orange including state titans Roselle Catholic, St. Anthony and the Patrick School among others.

The state’s two highest rated juniors, Gill St. Bernard’s Tyus Battle and SHP’s T.J. Gibbs, will be on hand along with top seniors such as Roselle Catholic’s recent Kentucky commit Isaiah Briscoe and St. Anthony’s Wichita State-bound Markis McDuffie.

Columbia is led by the talented 6-foot-2 senior point guard Michael Runcie, who averaged 16.2 points per game last winter and has already drawn the interest of the U.S. Naval Academy, Colgate and Binghamton.

Robinson will rely a great deal on his veteran backcourt ace, who must get double figures just about every game now that his brother, David Runcie (Hampton University), and another since-graduated supplemental scorer Robert Gordon (Davis & Elkins in West Virginia), have each departed.

“We have to find a way to manufacture points, that’s for sure,” said Robinson, who was 169-132 in 12 seasons at Irvington, while reaching a North 2, Group 3 final in 2013. “We have a bunch of guys who have been getting better each and every day, but they’re also going to have to help in scoring points because Michael can’t do it all on his own, that’s for sure.”

J.C. Beaubrun, a 6-4 senior forward; Davidson Rancine, a 6-4 junior forward and Henry Voorhees, a 6-7 junior center are among those lending good size to the Columbia front line, while Kevin Bostic, a 6-2 senior shooting guard, and exciting sophomore point guard John Reed should provide solid contributions in the backcourt.

Columbia did well in recent scrimmages against West Orange and Hillsborough and take on state public school power Paterson Eastside on Tuesday in Ghost country. Robinson will have the chance to be reunited with his former Irvington center Shakur Juiston, a 6-7 senior, who transferred to Paterson Eastside before last winter.

“It will be great to see Shakur,” said Robinson. “He’s grown up a lot as a young man maturing in this world and I’m glad to see he has landed on his feet at Eastside.”

As far as his own Columbia team, their ‘Bam-like’ stamp of hustle, a trademark of the coach’s squads at Irvington, appears to be taking a firm hold with his Cougars.

“The people from West Orange were saying how much they were impressed by how hard our kids played, and how we were moving the ball so well in the scrimmage, and that’s good to hear,” said Robinson, who is a 1993 graduate of Irvington. “That’s good to hear, and I’m confident this group of kids will continue to put in the necessary work in order to become a better basketball team as the season goes on.

“It’s been a smooth transition to come to Columbia. I’ll always have a big piece of my heart in Irvington, which is my hometown, but I’ve been in Maplewood now for 11 years and I’m familiar with the kids here who I’ve seen grow up, and I’m comfortable with how things work here.

“I’m excited to be part of the next era of Columbia High School basketball!”

For further information Hoop Group tournaments, email Max Saidman at max@hoopgroup.com or call 732-502-2255.

 

Hoop Group Tip-Off Classic, Dec. 20-21, at West Orange High School:

Saturday, Dec. 20:

1:30 p.m.: East Orange vs. Paterson Eastside

3:20 p.m.: Don Bosco Prep vs. CBA

4:50 p.m.: Teaneck vs. Gill St. Bernard’s

6:30 p.m.: Seton Hall Prep vs. Columbia

 

Sunday, Dec. 21:

Noon: West Orange vs. Union Catholic

1:40 p.m.: Patrick School vs. Bergen Catholic

3:20 p.m.: Newark East Side vs. St. Anthony

5 p.m.: Roselle Catholic vs. Blair

6:45 p.m.: Linden vs. Hun

 

Sideline Chatter Essex County Pre-Season Top 10:

1- Seton Hall Prep - T.J. Gibbs is conference's best player and one of the top juniors in the nation, while 6-7 Kelly Hogan remains a mainstay up front for Kevin Williams' Pirates, who should be deeper than last year's group.

2- East Side- Don't discount the possibilties for the Red Raiders who still have a solid backcourt paced by Ahmad Harrison and Jibreel Ahmad plus a bevy of talented youngsters for support.

3- Columbia- Michael Runcie is a backcourt performer who can take over a game and main task for new coach Bam Robinson is developing secondary scorers, especially in the big games.

4- East Orange - Billy Lovett's second season begins with immense promise after the Jaguars made it clear they were a team on the way up last winter in his debut year. Plenty of veterans back in tow as well.

5- Newark Tech- Terriers bid adieu to talented point guard R.J. Cole (transfer to St. Anthony) and now also Mustafa Lawrence, another of the stars of Group 2 state tourney championship run, who according to nj.com's Jeremy Schneider is now transferring to Legacy Charter (S.C.). Newark Tech does still return forward Jordan Zagadou, but will now sorely miss Lawrence.

6- Bloomfield Tech - Ramiir Dixon-Conover leads a solid cast of slashing swingmen who can get to the basket and the backourt is still solid for coach Brad Howard's Group 1 runner-up squad which must make its way without Dachon Burke who is now an Orange Tornado.

7- West Side- The chemistry that develops will be interesting to observe as key players from Newark Vocational, led by the dynamic scorer Alphonzo Anderson, combine with a solid returning cast for the Roughriders into one of the SEC's more intriguing court squads.

8- Orange- Dachon Burke, who is an immense talent, automatically upgrades the stock of Jake Martin's squad once he becomes eligible in 30 days from the start of the season, and the return of point guard Keshawn Alexander gives Tornados a backcourt leader to build with.

9- Bloomfield - Point man Isaiah Reyes, who has had his ups and downs in Bengal country, is a talent to behold when he's out there running the show for coach Pat Brunner's squad and the addition of players such as 6-6 Isaiah Shaw make this team one to keep an eye on moving forward.

10- West Orange- Greg Tynes has had a chance to fully ingratiate his coaching philosophy with this group,which is due for an upgrade with enough talent back in tow in addition to the arrival of heralded youngsters such as 6-5 freshman Justin Winston.

 

Essex County Players To Watch In 2014-2015 Season:

Jabreel Ahmad 5-11 senior East Side

Chidozie Akawuaku 6-3 senior Arts

Keshawn Alexander 5-7 senior Orange

Josh Allen 6-4 senior Montclair

Alphonzo Anderson 6-1 senior West Side

Gebereal Baitey 6-1 senior Newark Academy

Denzel Banks 6-1 senior East Orange

Treyvon Bennett 6-2 sophmore Seton Hall Prep

J.C. Beaubron 6-4 senior Columbia

Darnell Brodie 6-8 sophomore East Side

Kevin Brown 5-9 senior MKA

Aaron Broxton 6-6 senior East Orange

Dachon Burke 6-3 senior Orange

Josh Chery 6-4 senior MKA

Ramir Dixon-Conover 6-4 senior Bloomfield Tech

Jeff Duvinston 6-0 senior East Orange

Essien Epps 6-1 senior Bloomfield

Jack Farrell 5-11 sophomore Verona

Stephen Ferraro 6-0 junior Seton Hall Prep

Andy Fleurantin 5-11 senior West Orange

Dave Gautieri 6-7 junior Verona

T.J. Gibbs 6-3 junior Seton Hall Prep

Shaquille Green 5-9 junior West Side

Ahmad Harrison 6-2 senior East Side

Javon Hill 6-3 senior Arts

Kelly Hogan 6-7 senior Seton Hall Prep

Max Jacobs 6-2 senior Millburn

Nasheed Jackson 5-9 senior West Side

Zach Keller 6-6 junior Seton Hall Prep

Marquise Kindel 6-3 junior East Orange

Gary Lombardi 6-2 senior West Essex

Rae Muhindi 5-11 senior Bloomfield

Taj Price 6-7 senior East Side

Isaiah Reyes 5-10 junior Bloomfield

Michael Runcie 6-2 senior Columbia

Austin Scott 6-0 junior Caldwell

Isaiah Shaw 6-6 senior Bloomfield

Quazyre Smith 6-1 senior Belleville

Yasim Smith 6-0 senior Central

Tahlik Summers 6-1 junior Montclair

Jordan Taylor 6-0 junior East Orange

Zach Thomas 6-1 senior Glen Ridge

Andre Velez 5-9 junior Belleville

Henry Voorhees 6-7 junior Columbia

C.J. Webb 5-10 senior Newark Tech

Darius Williams 6-6 senior Barringer

Walker Wilson 6-8 senior Newark Tech

Kyle Wright 6-5 senior University

Jordan Zagadou 6-6 senior Newark Tech

Follow Steve Tober in Twitter @Chattermeister

The exciting T.J. Gibbs (14) will lead Seton Hall Prep against Columbia once again in the annual Hoop Group Tip-Off Classic 6:30 p.m. Saturday. (Photo by Richard Morris/SHP)

Bam Robinson was 169-132 in 12 solid seasons at Irvington. (Sideline Chatter photo)

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