February 1, 2006
Bruno and Evans have come a long way from Jordan Road
By TOM WILLIAMS
On Thursday night at Ocean City High School, the Raiders will host Mainland in a
boys basketball game that could have lots of impact. The game could play a big
role in who wins Division Two of the Cape-Atlantic League's American Conference.
And, depending on the outcome of Ocean City's game with Hammonton on Tuesday
night, it could also influence the Raiders' Group 3 Tournament hopes.
Of course, any game between Ocean City and Mainland is significant - in any sport.
But there is an even more interesting story surrounding their boys basketball
games this year.
Rewind to 1986.
Jordan Road School in Somers Point was in the middle of a 29-2 season, including
a number of tournament championships. The Pointers were coached that year by John
Bruno and among the players on the team were Mike O'Brien, Tom Adamson, Brooke
Priestly, Pete Medica and Jon Evans.
"He did a great job getting the most out of us," Evans said. "We weren't the most
talented team but we played the game hard."
On Thursday night, coaches Bruno and Evans will face each other in this big Ocean
It won't be the first time they've been on opposite benches.
Six years ago, when Evans was in his first year as head coach at Oakcrest, he
faced his former middle school coach. Bruno won that first meeting, the only time
the two schools played that season, when Al Genz threw in 20 points. Evans and
the Falcons won the first game the following year, then lost the rematch.
Evans then left Oakcrest after two seasons with a 21-22 record to move to his
alma mater, Mainland, as an assistant to Whitey Haak. Evans had played four years
for Sam Botta at Mainland, helping the Mustangs to a share of a CAL division
title and a spot in the South Jersey final.
In their first meeting this year, Mainland was a one-point winner in one of those
final-buzzer decisions that have become commonplace for the Raiders.
"I knew I wanted to stay in basketball from a young age," said Evans. "My sister
(Angie, Mainland's all-time leading scorer) was already becoming a well-known
player. And I was impressed by Bruno's passion and love for basketball. He
motivated us to play as a team."
Bruno - who still lives in Somers Point and whose oldest daughter, Chelsea, is a
Mainland freshman and boys basketball manager - also knew that his young player
would likely stay in the sport. "Jon always had the ability to understand where
everybody was supposed to be on the court," he said. "He had great knowledge of
When they faced each other in Mays Landing six years ago, it was a different
"That first game was fun," said Evans, "but it was also nerve-racking for me. I
was facing my mentor - hey, I was using his drills at practices. I wanted to win
that game more than any other game we played that year."
"To me," said Bruno, "that game was like a reward. To see somebody I first met
when he was in the sixth grade coaching a varsity team was a great experience. I
was very happy for him."
Neither coach thinks their long relationship gives either the advantage when they
send their teams out against each other. "Aside from knowing he has some trick up
his sleeve," said Evans. "I think we both know each other's tendencies but those
change a bit with each team you coach."
"We have very similar philosophies about basketball," said Bruno. "We can watch
another team or player and have the same reaction. The big thing is, his
development as a coach, teacher and, more importantly, a parent. His dedication
and commitment as a player has carried over to his professional career. Jon is a
role model for all the players and students who are fortunate enough to have him
as their coach or teacher. This has been a wonderful road I have been able to
share with him."
Not the kind of stuff you traditionally hear from Ocean City and Mainland coaches
before a big game. But don't be deceived. These two guys, and their respective
basketball teams, will go after each other Thursday night.
Still, no matter what the final score, you get the feeling there will be a sense
of happiness for both coaches.
Read more of
Tom Williams' columns