When the “r-word” — retirement — has been mentioned to Paul Rodio over the last few years, the St. Augustine Prep basketball coach has always asked the simple question: Why?
“I’m just not one of those guys,” said Rodio, who has coached the Hermits since 1977 and has five state championships and 950 wins to his resume. “I don’t have a lot of hobbies. I play golf maybe once a summer. I’m not a fisherman. What am I going to do? I love what I do now, and God willing — if my health stays good — I’ll keep doing it. And right now, my health is great, and I think I’ll go another three or four years at least."
It also helps Rodio’s health that his team has been playing so well. Despite a dearth of experienced varsity performers from a year ago, the Hermits are 19-4, ranked seventh in the Inquirer’s South Jersey rankings, and the second seed in the Cape Atlantic League tournament that gets underway Monday night with a first-round game against Pleasantville. St. Augustine Prep will be the four seed in the NJSIAA Non-Public South A Tournament and face Bishop Eustace in the first game early in March.
“We didn’t have a lot of experience coming back,” Rodio said. “But we’re in pretty good shape. I like where we are at, to be honest with you.” The Hermits have depth in their scoring with junior forward Matt Delaney and sophomore forward Elmarko Jackson leading the way. Kevin Foreman has returned after missing nine games with a lower leg injury to run the point guard spot.
St. Augustine’s top four scorers all are juniors and sophomores. The blending of youth with a veteran coach isn’t always the easiest thing in the world.
“My five state championship teams were all senior-laden,” Rodio said. “They knew what a big game meant. They knew what a turnover meant late in a game or a missed foul shot. Young kids have to go through that, and they occasionally have to go to a locker room and cry one day and say we shouldn’t have lost because we did this and this to get the experience.
“Right now, our kids are getting an education in every game, and they are doing it while still enjoying some success. It’s similar to that 2016 team that made a late run, established themselves and gained experience in the tournament by winning a few road games and went to the South Jersey championship game against" Christian Brothers Academy.
The data bank that Rodio can draw from is enormous when talking about Hermits basketball. He chuckles when he points out that three of the five seniors on his first team in 1977 have now retired from their jobs. And while he doesn’t feel the time is close to step away, he’s aware of what he doesn’t want to develop.