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Andrew Bilodeau has been a head basketball coach for 19 years but it was his time as an assistant under three prominent names in Shore Conference athletic lore that he learned his preferred approach to coaching.

Bilodeau worked under Toms River South head baseball coach and all-time state wins leader Ken Frank, former Toms River South football coach Ron Signorino and former Lakewood basketball coach Bob Nastase and it was the latter who shared some words of wisdom that have stuck with Bilodeau.

“Don’t screw it up,” Bilodeau said. “I asked Bob Nastase what the key to coaching was and he said ‘Stay out of the way of the players and your assistant coaches. Don’t screw it up.’”

While that was likely a gross oversimplification of his coaching craft by Nastase, Bilodeau’s approach over the last two decades – with the last 12 seasons coming as boys basketball coach at Manasquan – has yielded results that are unparalleled by any other program in the same time span.

This year, Manasquan went from consistent winner to Shore Conference juggernaut. The Warriors finished 31-1, won a second consecutive NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship and captured the program’s first Shore Conference Tournament championship since 1957. Like his team, Bilodeau has been a consistent contender for the billing of “Best Coach in the Shore Conference” and his team’s success in 2019-20 pushed him over the top as this year’s Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year.

Manasquan Coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Manasquan Coach Andrew Bilodeau. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

“We have had a lot of good teams here and certainly, we thought this could be a special one,” Bilodeau said of his 2019-20 squad. “Obviously, the talent level is there. The chemistry was outstanding. Their competitiveness every day was a big factor in them improving throughout the year. They showed up to every game and every practice ready to work, but they were also a loose group. They were loose but extremely competitive.”

Since grabbing the reins at Manasquan in 2008-09, Bilodeau has overseen winning seasons in 11 out of 12 years, eight straight division championships from 2013 to 2020, nine straight Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinal appearances since 2012, six SCT semifinal appearances overall and four Central Group II titles.

Up until last year though, Manasquan could not find its way into the SCT championship game and when they finally did, the Warriors ran into a Ranney team loaded with five Division-I-caliber starters. Manasquan hung with Ranney most of the way before ultimately succumbing, 70-60.

While last year belonged to Ranney, this past season at the Shore belonged to Manasquan. The Warriors opened the season No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, validated the ranking with a dominant performance in the WOBM Christmas Classic, and proved themselves worthy at every step of the way thereafter. North Jersey Non-Public B champion Roselle Catholic was the only team to beat Manasquan and Newark East Side and Holmdel were the only teams to lose to the Warriors by a single-digit margin.

“The combination of athleticism and size was probably the biggest factor for us,” Bilodeau said. “(Juniors) Connor Walsh and Jack Collins stepped in and made big contributions for us all year and Tim McEneny was awesome defensively. That’s two six-five guys and a six-eight guy who are athletes, plus we had three great defensive guards. Defensively, we were really good in a number of different ways and we got contributions from everybody.”

Even in losing to Roselle Catholic, Manasquan opened plenty of eyes by playing the Lions even the whole way despite missing injured star Alex Galvan. It took a last-second layup by C.J. Wilcher to deny Manasquan, 45-43, in the classic showdown at the Hoop Group Boardwalk Showcase at Brookdale.

After his team suffered what would be its only loss of the season, Bilodeau and his team were not interested in accepting a moral victory.

"We didn't come up here to put on a show or put up a good fight," Bilodeau said after the game. "We came here to win just like we would any other game."

Galvan missed a total of 13 games over two separate stints with two different injuries and Manasquan went 12-1 without him – including a convincing win over St. Peter’s Prep team that finished ranked No. 12 in the state by NJ Advance Media. He returned for good in the SCT semifinals and helped spark the Warriors to a 44-40 win over Holmdel.

After surviving a second straight struggle with Holmdel, Manasquan rolled into the SCT championship game for the second straight year and proved its superiority. Playing Toms River North at Monmouth University’s OceanFirst Bank Center, Manasquan stormed out to a 32-7 lead by early in the second quarter and never looked back in beating the Mariners, 75-49, in what was a clinical performance.

From there, Manasquan again handled the competition in Central Jersey Group II, capped by a 53-38 win over Holmdel in the sectional final. It was the fourth time Manasquan had beaten Holmdel – the No. 2 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 – during the season and finished off the second straight sectional title for the Warriors.

As great as Manasquan’s season was, the Warriors wanted it to be even better, but never got the chance to build on what they already did. Just hours from a scheduled tipoff against Camden – the No. 1 team in the state in 2019-20 – the Manasquan Board of Education announced it was pulling its boys basketball team out of the NJSIAA Tournament due to concerns surrounding the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The season had ended without Bilodeau or any of his assistant coaches or players running up against Nastase’s memorable words. They didn’t screw it up, but the season was still over.

“It was awkward,” Bilodeau said of the team’s last meeting together. “It was sad. It was very unfortunate. It’s a unique ending. The way New Jersey is set up, every year, every team ends on a loss except the team that wins the Tournament of Champions. So coaches are always walking into sad locker room at the end of every year. This was different thought because we had no control over our season ending. Instead of regrets about the way you played, you end up questioning a lot of other things. It’s  unique and it’s difficult.”

Manasquan will not have a chance to talk about a historic win over Camden, a run to the Tournament of Champions or even an excruciating loss that ended an all-time season for the program. It does not, however, change that 2019-20 was, indeed, an all-time season for the Warriors.

“Because we had a good year, I hope those guys remember it as a positive overall,” Bilodeau said. “I hope these guys have those same thoughts that a lot of guys have been lucky to have here: they played with guys they grew up with and got to represent their town and their school. That it ended the way it did adds some questions but it shouldn’t spoil it for them. Maybe it just enhances the conversation a little bit.”

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