It's a ritual that has played out for many more years than any of us have been around.

A father watches his son play a sport, trying to control all the emotions that build as his offspring competes.

After, the father quietly pulls his child aside and offers a bit of advice, drawing from either his years as a player or just the knowledge gained from watching so many games in his life.

This scenario has played out numerous times for T.J. DiLeo. It still does. He plays, his father Tony pulls him aside and offers some words of wisdom.

Then Tony shows his son how it's done.

"Oh, he can still shoot," said T.J., a senior guard for the Cinnaminson High Pirates. "He's still a real good shooter. I might have a little more range than him, but he's right there with me. And he usually takes me at the foul line."

Tony DiLeo was a star player at Cinnaminson, then went on to a terrific career with La Salle, where he was named first-team Academic All-America. He followed that by playing and coaching for 10 years in West Germany. He is in his 18th season working for the 76ers, the last 4 years as the senior vice president/assistant general manager.

So, T.J. has a nice wealth of information from which to draw.

"He's helped me a lot," T.J. said. "I've learned pretty much everything from him. He's always been there to tell me something I could improve on. He knows so much about the game, that there's always something more I can learn from him."

No doubt Dad will be there when T.J. starts to choose which college he'll attend next year. And T.J. can use all the help he can get. See, his decision will be a little tricky.

Besides being the leader for coach Mike Fries' basketball team at Cinnaminson, DiLeo is also one of the best soccer players in the area. This past season, he netted 24 goals and 15 assists for the Pirates, who went 22-3 and reached the Group 2 state championship.

"Ideally, I'd like to go to a school and play both sports," said DiLeo, who stands 6-2. "But if it came down to it, I'd play either sport. Then, I'd just have to find the school that's the right fit for me."

But for now, his concentration is on this season, which began yesterday with a 69-54 win over Pemberton. DiLeo scored 23 points.

"T.J. can shoot, he can rebound, he has tremendous court vision, he pretty much does it all for us," Fries said. "He's obviously grown up in a great basketball family and he's grown into a great basketball player.

"I remember when we played Paul VI his sophomore year. They were a very good team, and T.J. took over in the second half, making some threes. You could see his confidence from that game just take off. And from there, he's really kept improving."

Although he acknowledges favoring playing the point, DiLeo says he'll do whatever. "I just want to do whatever it takes to make the team better. We all want to be part of a winning program. A lot of us have been playing together for a long time, so we know each other's moves on the court."

The familiarity led to an 18-8 record last season, the most wins by the school since 1983. The success has injected high expectations this year.

"We've put it up on the blackboard, we want to win 20 games and make some noise in the state tournament," Fries said. "We have a great core of senior players in T.J. and Dan Gilbert and Dan Ennis. They all do whatever is asked and they're anxious to do well this season."

DiLeo agreed.

"We do have some goals that we set for ourselves as a team, mainly getting the 20 wins, winning the Christmas tournament at Audubon, winning our division [Burlington County Patriot] and advancing far in Group 2," he said. "We should have a pretty good season."

And then will come one of DiLeo's toughest decision, where he'll attend college.

And no doubt looking for Dad's (and Mom's) help once again. *