Shore Sports Network basketball blogger Tim “Nep84″ McCollum gets ready for the 2014-15 season, which includes a new coach, Joe Fagan, at his alma mater, Neptune, after Fagan came over from Jackson Memorial. 

I went to my son’s winter concert at Neptune High School the other day. As I was pulling in and parking I noticed a flurry of activity in the gym that could only mean one thing...basketball.

What a conundrum! I quickly parked and walked into the performance arts center, got my program, handed it to my mom and said, "I need to use the men’s room." Now this wasn’t a complete lie, as I did really need to use the men’s room after the long trip home from work. Since the men’s room was right next to the gym, how could I walk by and not walk in, right?

So with one eye on the game and another on the clock I took notice. Everything seemed exactly the same to me until I looked at the bench.  After telling a member of the dance team that we were playing Freehold Township (more on them later), I had that "Who the heck is that standing there coaching my team?" moment.

So that answers one burning question. It was definitely weird to not see Ken O’Donnell coaching the basketball team. That’s when it hit me that a new era of Neptune basketball had officially begun. Now I’m on the record and I let me feelings clearly be known on the subject of the Board of Education’s decision to not rehire coach O’Donnell to coach the team. I wrote a post on the subject as it was about to happen.

Former Jackson Memorial coach Joe Fagan takes over for Hall of Famer Ken O'Donnell as the new Neptune coach in one of many storylines to watch this season in Shore Conference boys basketball. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

It’s time to move on because clearly from looking at the sidelines the game is going to move on with or without me. So to you coach Joe Fagan I say this: Welcome to Neptune.

Here’s the thing about eras - this isn’t the first new era, and I’m not worried about how this new era will go at all. Let me explain. The first era I can recall is the Larry Hennessy era. Remember him? You ask the old Neptune crowd about him and you’ll hear about how he stalled the ball against Plainfield in the sectional finals at Brookdale and cost us the game. Oh it’s true, I was a little kid at the time, but remember it clearly. Let me tell you, second-guessing wasn’t invented in the last couple years or so.

The point is despite that, Hennessy had a long and successful era with the program. But the Hennesssy era ended.

What happened?

The Henry Moore era started. You might remember those teams, including the 1981 state champions who beat Camden 85-65 in the state semifinals at Jadwin Gym at Princeton University (we miss you CamdenLegend). I was one of the 400,000 people who claim to have been there who was ACTUALLY there.

And yet the Henry Moore era didn’t last forever. I’m sure there were folks who weren’t happy to see that era end.

After dabbling here and there, fast forward ahead to the start of the O’Donnell era. That era included two more state championships. I was there to see them both from their first game of the season to the parade down Route 33.

So that’s my answer to the second burning question. I’m not concerned about the transition to this new era at all. First of all, tradition doesn’t graduate. It doesn’t retire, and it sure doesn’t end with a Board of Education decision.  Secondly, I’ve seen coach Fagan in action, and the man can coach. Lastly and most importantly, Jackson Memorial's colors are red and black. Neptune’s colors are red and black. How hard can this be?

Now to the last burning question; will there be pressure on Coach Fagan? The answer is yes and no. I say no because in the context of whether there will be be pressure replacing Ken O’Donnell, I’m not worried. This ain’t his first rodeo. I do say yes, though, because at Neptune there is always pressure because the eras I’ve documented before him have set the bar very high.

I’ll be there for opening night tonight with my lucky Neptune hat on rooting for the home team. That is an era I hope never ends.

My opinion on this era’s thing isn’t exactly a Neptune thing, either. The 'Wiz' (Editor's note: Former coach Ed Wicelinski) era ended at CBA, and looking at Shore Sports Network's initial top 10, I see the Billet era is doing just fine in Lincroft. The Pott Richardson era ended in Lakewood, and I know firsthand the Randy Holmes era is thriving down there, as they look to have yet another exciting team.

One more final Neptune thing before I move on to some random things because the world doesn’t revolve around Neptune. After what I've seen from coach Rodney Taylor, it looks like a new era may be blooming for Neptune football as well. Keep up the good work.

A quick football recap

Speaking of football, the Shore Conference swept all of the Central Jersey sectional titles in the state tournament. This is extremely difficult with the tough Greater Middlesex Conference teams, the re-emergence of Mercer County and the perennial brick wall Red Bank Catholic runs into.

Let’s start there. As a fan of a school with two tough losses to y’all and who’ve been blown out recently I say congratulations on FINALLY getting over the hump and winning that elusive championship.  I may not be a fan, but I’m a supporter of all of our clubs in the postseason tournaments.

Allow me to put one more issue to bed. I don’t give a hoot how your kids get into your program. Or anyone else’s for that matter.

Hats off to Manalapan, too. There’s another brick wall knocked down. Here’s to hoping this is the beginning of a trend and not a zenith.

Random basketball notes

I like to follow up on our graduates from time to time. I’ll at times look up their stats and game logs and see how they are doing and/or read their bios. After reading that Manasquan's Marina Mabrey (very likely the Shore Conference Player of the Year again, and first-team All State) had committed to Notre Dame, I Googled it to see if there was an article or two to read. Anyway, I came across her Team USA U-18 bio and noticed something interesting. We have the same birthday! I’ve seen her play a few times and anyone who has surely knows she’s left-handed. If you aren’t sure look at the picture of her signing her National Letter of Intent on Signing Day. I know exactly what it’s like to twist and contort yourself to write. So to you Marina Mabrey I say this: You got the best birthday in the history of the world, and you’re-left handed. What more do you need? Great things are surely to come. Go get ’em sister.

While we’re on the subject of the surname Mabrey, can we please dial down the pressure just a little bit regarding Dara Mabrey?  After reading all this hype I went to YouTube and searched for Dara Mabrey. Sure enough (I love the 21st century) there was a clip of her making an insane play for a kid her age. But please, PLEASE let her find her own way. All this debate is a lot to throw on a freshman’s shoulders.

If you have the time, go check out the WOBM Christmas Classic this weekend.  The Round of 16 of the WOBM is one of my favorite days of the year. In fact, if my editor is paying attention (he always does, I don’t really type quite this well) there should be a link or two around here somewhere. Think about it: you get either 8 boys or girls games in one sitting in a comfortable arena to watch basketball. Plus this is becoming more of a conference-wide tournament and not just an Ocean County thing.

Five players I want to see this season

Pat Andree (CBA) – I’m going to qualify this by saying I want to see him play when they aren’t playing Neptune. I still have visions of the sick 3-point play he made at the end of the Shore Conference quarterfinal game from last year. Kids often make a giant leap from their sophomore to junior year. Look at Mike Aaman as a recent example. Andree has already set the bar high. It’s gonna get a lot higher, folks.

Tymere Berry / Khaleel Greene (Toms River South) – I list these two fellas as one because that’s exactly what they are on the basketball floor. Berry impressed the heck out of me immediately last year and Greene ran with him step by step. They are entertaining, smart, and play team ball.

Jared Kimbrough (Neptune) – I’ve never seen him play but I challenge you to find anything written about Neptune that doesn’t include his name. I don’t want to be different. I also want to see him tonight and see why I keep hearing his name.

Jason Czajkowski (Freehold) – My favorite players are the max effort guys who often fly under the radar, and the guards with moxie because that’s the way I played. Last year he flew under the radar. He won’t this year. I promised no advanced scouting this year and I’m sticking to it.

NyRhique Smith (Manalapan) – You’ll learn this name quickly. I’d forgotten about him but seeing his name appear in the A North preview brought it back to me. I saw him as a freshman. This kid can flat out score.

Sean Barksdale (Lakewood) – When he’s on it’s fun to watch...unless it’s against your team, then it’s time to get out the Rolaids. 

Yeah, I know that’s six. We only count in threes here on the ShoreLine. Enjoy opening night everyone.