Paul Collins put his 750th career victory into perspective.
“It means I’m going for 751,” Collins said.
That single-minded focus on the task at hand has enabled Collins to roam the sideline at three schools for more than 40 years and fashion one of the most successful coaching careers in South Jersey history, in any sport.
Collins won his 750th game in his 44th season on Saturday as visiting Burlington City fought off a major challenge from rival Burlington Township to score a 54-50 victory before a large and animated crowd in Ken Faulkner Gymnasium.
Sophomore point guard Deonte Woodbury led the way with 22 points, four assists, and four blocks for Burlington City (15-2), the No. 15 team in the Inquirer Top 25.
Senior forward D’Andre Thurmond added seven points with 13 rebounds and senior swingman Jeremy Young scored seven of his 13 in a tense fourth quarter for the Blue Devils.
“That’s the first time we’ve been pressed like that all year,” Collins said of Burlington Township’s scrambling defense, which forced Burlington City into numerous turnovers. “We’re usually faster than every other team. But we weren’t faster than them.”
Senior Jarek Jackson scored 13 and junior Jordan Livington added 12 for Burlington Township (10-9), which rallied from a 18-5 deficit after one quarter to twice take the lead early in the final period.
Collins saw plenty to fix in the Blue Devils’ uneven performance, but lots to build upon, as well.
“This game will help us,” Collins said. “We need games like this going into the playoffs. This is the way teams are going to play us. We have to be better with the basketball.”
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Collins, 67, is third on South Jersey’s all-time list in victories behind St. Augustine Prep’s Paul Rodio, who has 903, and late Camden coach Clarence Turner, who has 775. Collins is the area’s longest-tenured coach, having started at Willingboro in the 1974-75 season.
“They were still wearing canvas [sneakers] when I started,” Collins said.
Collins, a three-sport star at old J.F. Kennedy High School in Willingboro who played basketball under Harry Litwack at Temple University, spent 30 seasons as the coach at Willingboro. He won 546 games with the Chimeras.
Collins coached for six years at Riverside. He has been Burlington City’s coach since 2010, building one of South Jersey top small-school programs.
The Blue Devils won the Central Jersey Group 1 title last season, the first of the coach’s career, and loom as top contenders to capture another sectional crown and perhaps challenge for a state title, as well.
“This is a great group,” Collins said of the current Blue Devils. “Unselfish, no personality clashes, play the game the right way.”
The 67-year-old Collins still relates to today’s players, according to Thurmond.
“He’s old-school, but we respect that,” Thurmond said. “He’s tough on us, disciplines us, makes us play his game. But he knows what he’s talking about.”
Collins said he has changed with the times. He’s a little less emotional on the sideline, a little more lenient with regard to ill-advised shots and questionable decisions, although the Blue Devils tested his patience on Saturday.
“The game has changed so much,” Collins said. “It’s a ‘three-and-layup’ game now. You better change with it or it’s time to get out.”
Collins, who also is an assistant football coach at Holy Cross, has no immediate plans to step away from the sideline. He said his health is fine, his competitive edge still sharp.
Collins downplayed the significance of his 750th victory.
“It means a lot of yellow-bus rides,” Collins said.
Besides, the coach said, this was not the time to step back and admire the long sweep of his career.
“It’s a nice accomplishment,” Collins said. “But when all is said and done, we’re in the middle of a season, and watching these guys learn to play with each other, and grow, and get ready for the playoffs, that’s much more important than any win for me.”
Burlington City 18 7 17 12 – 54
Burlington Twp. 5 14 22 9 – 50
BC: D’Andre Thurmond 7, Jeremy Young 13, Deonte Woodbury 22, Amir Landrum 4, Jahsanti Santiago 2, Dion Butler 6.
BT: Jared Jackson 13, Jalen Brown 7, Jordan Livingston 12, JohnPaul Oluwandare 4, Jarrell Ellis 9, Manny Ayetigbo 3, Wesley Robinson 2.