By BRIAN CUNNIFF
There’s been a change in the leadership hierarchy of the Cape May County Technical High School boys basketball program.
Josh Mercado, who had been the head coach for six seasons (59-96 record), has moved into a reduced role in the program as an assistant coach. Sam Picketts, who served as an assistant under Mercado last season, has stepped into the head coaching position.
Mercado, a psychology teacher at Cape May Tech, recently opened a fitness and training facility in Rio Grande. His work in the new business, as well as a desire to spend more time with his wife and young children, has led him to take a step back within the program, he said.
“I’m sort of sliding over,” Mercado said. “We’re blessed to have a guy like Sam with us. He shares my passion of putting kids first. For me, this is not replacing one passion with another but with what I’m trying to do with the gym, it gives me room to try to reach more kids. But I’m definitely still very committed to the kids in our program.”
Picketts, a 1997 Ocean City High School graduate who played basketball, baseball and soccer as a high school athlete, brings some head coaching experience with him into the new position. He was a teacher and the head boys basketball coach at Bridgeton High School for two seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, before accepting a teaching and assistant coaching position prior to last scholastic year at Cape May Tech to be closer to his Upper Township home.
“It was a really hard decision leaving Bridgeton because I loved being there,” said Picketts, an English teacher. “I really wasn’t looking to leave but then a position came open at Cape May Tech and that’s 15 minutes away versus 55. I have two little boys so that played a huge part. I reached out to Josh to see if there was anything I could help with and it so happened that a coaching position opened up. So it started from there and we’ve really developed a great, close friendship.
“I think the best thing about this is that things won’t change a ton. I think we each have different things we bring to it. Having experience as a varsity head coach in the CAL should help me. Our personalities are a little different but overall the program itself is going to be really more of a continuation instead of a change. I think Josh and I are both about building a program and developing a culture at Cape May Tech where we can help kids develop and be successful overall not just on the court but also beyond what we do with basketball.”
Mercado believes the program is in a good place, having won at least 12 games per season in three out of the last four seasons. The Hawks bring back senior Dylan Delvecchio, one of the top players in Cape May County, although they did lose quite a few other key players from last season’s team.
“I feel like we’re in a very good position to compete with the local teams every time we play,” Mercado said. “The CAL is tough for us because we’re a small Group I school but as far as competing locally and playing games that are going to excite local fans, I like where we are as a program.”
Mercado, who played high school basketball at Lower Cape May, has been involved in the program at Cape May Tech for more than a decade, having served as an assistant coach under Bob Ridgway for five seasons prior to becoming head coach. He credited his time under Ridgway, as well as the guidance from former assistant coaches Andy Ridgway and Joe Bimbo, as helping him along the way.
“I’m completely grateful for the mentorships I received from those guys,” he said.
Cape May Tech is also welcoming another assistant coach into the program with previous head coaching experience in Travis Amstutz. Amstutz, also an Ocean City graduate, has been a basketball official in the Cape-Atlantic League area for the past decade after a stint as the head boys basketball coach at Vineland High School.
“Having a good staff around you is hugely important in any kind of success you might have,” Picketts said. “The one thing that I think is going to be helpful for our program and for our kids is that we’ll have three guys on the bench with head coaching experience. Some people might say that’s like having too many cooks in the kitchen but all three of us are always going to put the team first. It’s never going to be about whose idea it is but what idea is best for the team and for the kids.”
Picketts hails from a family of coaches. His sister, Cory Terry, led the Ocean City High School field hockey program to three state titles in the 2010s, and his mother, Peggy Essl, was a basketball and softball coach at Wildwood High School, leading the softball team to a state championship in the mid 1970s.
High school basketball season was due to begin last Friday but the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the start and shortened the regular season. Official practices are currently scheduled to begin Jan. 11, followed by a 15-game regular season slated to begin Jan. 26.