Shore Conference boys’ basketball: 40 years later, Red Bank remains the last unbeaten

It was among the most memorable moments from an historic season 40 years ago, as unbeaten Red Bank squared off with Christian Brothers Academy, the state power playing in its first Shore Conference Tournament final after being admitted to the league that school year.

“Back in the day, when Brick Memorial was the place to be, on the court that day, that was the loudest I’ve ever heard a gym,” Nick Pizzulli, then in his fourth season coaching Red Bank, said recently.  “Everybody was waiting for that game.”

The Bucs were anything but welcoming to the league newcomers, building an 11-point fourth-quarter lead on their way to a 61-58 win, against a team that a year later would win the first of back-to-back NJSIAA Non-Public A titles, and a program that would secure 16 SCT titles over the next 27 years.

And Red Bank secured its spot among the Shore’s immortals when it beat Elmwood Park in the 1983 Group 2 final to cap a 31-0 season.

They were the sixth area team to go unbeaten over a 14-year stretch. And it remains the last perfect season in a year not shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Red Bank guard George Hall during the 1982-83 season.
Red Bank guard George Hall during the 1982-83 season.

“It has become this iconic thing that happened,” Pizzulli said. “To me, it was a great thing to do and when you’re 33 years old and coaching and it happens.”

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Now they’re like the local version of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, their status as the last undefeated team at the Jersey Shore secure for another year each time the final unbeaten falls. With one week left in the regular season, Raritan, off to a 16-0 start, is the last team with a chance. The Rockets could go into next week’s Shore Conference Tournament with an 18-0 mark.

There have been some near misses. CBA was 28-0 and nationally ranked in 2000 before losing to Seton Hall Prep in the Non-Public A final on a last-second score. Manasquan went 30-1 in 2019-20 before the season came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic, losing its only game on a buzzer-beater to Roselle Catholic in January.

But no one has been able to recreate the magic associated with having a zero in the loss column.

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Making history

They were a bunch of kids who came up through the school district, playing together in gyms and parks for much of their lives. The only Division I athlete was Danny Stubbs, who went on to win a national championship in football as a defensive end playing for coach Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami, and then got a pair of Super Bowl rings in the NFL.

The group, which included guard George “Boo” Hall, who led the team in scoring at 18 points per game, forward Barry Phoenix, who, along with Hall, had 17 points in the state final, and guards George Sims and Edgar Boynton had experienced so much together.

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They asked Pizzulli to try to set a game up against Atlantic City, led by future St. John’s star Willie Glass, in their senior year, because they had lost to them as eighth graders in the Garden State middle school tournament.

Former Red Bank coach Nick Pizzulli, shown in a 2003 photo, displays a ball from Red Bank's unbeaten 1983 NJSIAA Group 2 championship team.
Former Red Bank coach Nick Pizzulli, shown in a 2003 photo, displays a ball from Red Bank's unbeaten 1983 NJSIAA Group 2 championship team.

Ultimately, the Bucs became the final chapter in what had been a golden era for Shore area basketball, with a run of unbeaten teams that began with the 1969-70 Long Branch squad, with CBA (1973), Long Branch (1977), Asbury Park (1977), Neptune (1981) and Red Bank following suit.

“I think what has become more valuable for that event, that team, is in the wake of basketball today you do not find public schools doing that,” Pizzulli said. “You don’t get many schools that use their own homegrown talent that has processed through their middle school and the high school, and be that successful without getting the transfer portal going. That’s what’s unique about that. And Neptune and Long Branch and those teams, they were their homegrown kids. And now they’re not.”

Red Bank actually started the 1989 season 23-0, before that team, led by diminutive guard Irving “Pee Wee” Reeves, lost to a Neptune team led by future George Washington star Sonni Holland in the SCT semifinals. That team lost to eventual state champion Eastern in the state semifinals, as Mike Edwards scored 28 of the 1,081 points he scored as a senior, before heading to Syracuse.

Enduring legacy

The roots of a perfect moment in Shore sports history actually trace back to the previous season, beginning with a 71-67 win over New Brunswick in a Central Group 2 semifinal, against a New Brunswick team that tried to bully them off the court, with PIzzulli noting his team “grew up in that game.”

Then came a heart-wrenching triple overtime loss to Salem in the 1982 Group 2 semifinal.

“After we lost to a good Salem team, In the locker room afterwards these kids are like, ‘we’re not losing again.’ “ Pizzulli said. “And it’s like, ‘OK, good, attitude.’ But eight of those kids were coming back and you look back they were 24-4 that year.

“By that next summer when they were playing summer league, they wanted to beat people by 50 points.”

Pizzulli, retired as a teacher and coach but still working with the Shore Conference on things like scheduling and the Shore Conference boys’ basketball tournament, has seen how the shifting landscape of high school basketball over the past four decades has made it increasingly difficult to go undefeated.

From the advent of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions in 1989, which had all six group winners play out to an overall state champion, to the regional/national schedules many top teams play nowadays, it’s gotten tougher. Although the elimination of the TOC, played for the final time last season as part of the NJSIAA’s attempt to shorten seasons, could open the door in the future.

To be clear, Red Bank had to navigate a gauntlet that include some daunting obstacles.

Just to get to the CBA game, the Bucs had to face a Manalapan team led by Ed Zucker, who scored 1,906 points in high school and went on to play at Rutgers, in the SCT semifinals.

And there was the Central Group 2 final against Freehold and 6-7 shot-blocking sensation Tim Perry, who would go on to star at Temple before playing seven seasons in the NBA. Heck, the Elmwood Park team featured Rick Dadika, who would help lead Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament in 1989.

But the Bucs were able to continually answer the call, with the team going 55-4 over its final two seasons, while making a strong case as the No. 1 team in the state by the end of the 1983 season. And the more seasons that pass without a Shore Conference team finishing undefeated, the stronger the enduring legacy of the area’s last unbeaten team gets.

Stephen Edelson is a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey sports columnist who has been covering athletics in the state and at the Jersey Shore for 35 years. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP;

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Shore NJ boys basketball: Red Bank 40 years later remains last unbeaten