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St. John's Foley notches 800th career win

SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- The seconds were still ticking, but with an 80-37 victory over Holy Name well in hand, teams began to lineup for handshakes. St. John's head coach Bob Foley brisked down the line, gave a quick handshake and quiet pat on the shoulder to Holy Name head coach Jason Chavoor, and made a swift bee-line for the locker room upstairs.

And that's how the state of Massachusetts' all-time winningest coach celebrated his 800th career victory. A subdued standing ovation from a three-quarters capacity crowd, and a brief nod of acknowledgement.

No photo ops, no banners, no streamers. In fact, the biggest photo op may have been from the student section itself, where several fans donned white shirts with "800" handwritten in marker across the front, and two others dressed up in Foley's signature attire -- short-sleeved dress shirt, tie, and pleated khakis.

Coaches are known to speak with humility in the aftermath of a milestone career victory, with cookie-cutter quotes like "It's about the kids" or "Onto the next one". But if that sequence of events right there tells us anything, it's that Foley truly walks the walk when it comes to these sorts of things.

Foley became the second coach in New England to reach 800 career wins, joining former St. Joseph (Conn.) coach Vito Montelli, who retired after 50 seasons last spring with 878 career victories and 11 state championships. Foley's career record headed into Friday now stands at 800-329, with 16 Divsion 1 Central titles and state championships in 2000 and 2009.

"You didn't have much of a reaction," a reporter told Foley outside the Pioneers' locker room.

"Reaction?" Foley said. "Well, when you coach this many games, a game's a game. This is somehwere around 1,125 games or something that I've coached. It's not that every game is a big one, but if you saw a picture of me when I win the state championship, you wouldn't see me...I think I went and sat over on the bench of something.

"I'm not a guy who's going to jump around and whatever. It's never been about me, it's about the kids. That's the way it should be."

Milestone? Forget it.

"Yeah, I guess it's a milestone so I guess it means alot," he began. "More important, we're 6-3 and we've got a good shot at districts now, that's what I'm looking at."

The biggest thing he takes away from this, Foley said, is the mark of longevity. He took his first head coaching job at Uxbridge High in 1963, almost immediately after graduating Holy Cross, then had an 11-year stint at St. Peter-Marian before taking over at St. John's in 1980, where he's been ever since.

And amidst this impressive run he's currently riding -- six straight Central Mass. titles, including four straight state final appearances (2008-11) -- he's quick to remind you of his not-so-invincible days of Uxbridge, and how he's been on the other side of the track.

Foley stepped from his social studies teacher and athletic director positions in 2010, and he's enjoying his semi-retirement. But the game still pulls him in for the same reasons he first got into if over half a century ago.

"I love it. Love the kids, love the sport of basketball," Foley said. "I guess, I spend so many hours a day now...When I taught full-time or was AD full-time, I didn't have the hours I have now. Now I have all day long, when I'm out for a three-mile walk, to think about what I'm going to do and whatever.

"I just love these kids, and to tell you the truth, one of these days I'm gonna retire. But I would really miss the kids, and miss the sport, the enthusiasm, everything you see at a game."

You can argue in turn, the young promise keeps refreshing him, too.

There is plenty of old school and plenty of unwavering routine with Foley. His patented dual-pivot offensive system is considered an artifact among this era of elaborate four-out, dribble drive-oriented schemes. His patented look -- the short-sleeve dress shirt, the tie, the khakis -- has become something of folklore.

But his core personnel belief -- the best players play, period -- has muted any conversation about retiring after a certain player's run is over. From Matt Labove to David White to Richard Rodgers, Foley has had a great streak in recent years of four-year starters giving way to four-year starters.

With this group, that promising core belongs to his backcourt of sophomore Davon Jones and freshman Adham Floyd. Typically vocal and commanding on the sidelines, Foley hasn't had to say much to the young duo, a perceived nod of confidence. Jones and Floyd combined for 17 points and seven rebounds in just over a half of action; Floyd also racked up four assists.

Coupled with a frontcourt nucleus of junior T.J. Kelley, junior Charlie Murray and sophomore and Drew Vittum, along with the expected return of senior point guard Ken Harrington from injury, can you blame Foley?

"You don't need a lot of players," Foley said. "If you can get two good players a year over four years, because I do have a history of playing young kids, freshmen, sophomores, if they're the best players they'll play...I know people will say 'Oh when he graduates, maybe it's time', and then someone else comes in, you know, so it has never become that time. And I don't see that, hopefully, for a while if I stay healthy."

So how did the state's all-time winngest coach celebrate his milestone tonight?

How do you think?

"Go home with my wife, I guess," he laughed out loud. "Like I do every game."