By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
Regardless of what he did, Matt Bloom simply could not escape the cacophony of bouncing basketballs. It happens in places in the deep South, in huge chunks of Texas and Ohio when it comes to football. In Chester, Camden, Philadelphia, and in places like Teaneck, in North Jersey, it is basketball that permeates the bloodstream of the young. It’s what gripped Bloom in his formative years, stirring an unrequited passion that constantly gnawed at him.
Growing up, he went to Teaneck High School games. He was the manager of the Fairleigh Dickinson University men’s team in high school.
To his earliest recollection, Bloom always wanted to be a basketball coach.
Others around him, however, seemed to have different plans, like Fred Hill Jr., the former Rutgers’ men’s basketball coach, and those plans didn’t include Matt Bloom anywhere near basketball. The two built a relationship when Hill was a Fairleigh Dickinson assistant in the 1990s. In the summer of 2006, when Hill got the job at Rutgers, Bloom paid him a visit. Hill knew Bloom possessed a robust love for the game and the hefty hammer of a University of Pennsylvania degree. He also envisioned Bloom using his Penn sheepskin as a future CEO of a Fortune 500 company rather than digging his hands in the sweaty grind of a hoops life.
Rutgers Prep boys basketball coach Matt Bloom coaches during a game at Philly Live this summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
So, when Bloom arrived at Hill’s office looking for a coaching job, Hill kicked him out. He told Bloom he had nothing available and paternally urged him to realize his potential somewhere else. The next day, Bloom showed up again. Hill’s receptionist informed Hill that Bloom returned. Hill replied to her, “Tell Mr. Bloom to have a nice day.” This became a routine. For four-straight days, Bloom sat stoic on the couch in the reception area of the Scarlet Knights’ basketball office for roughly six hours waiting to speak to Hill. For four-straight days, Bloom received the same response.
On the fifth day, Hill gave in.
It’s why today, Hill, now retired from coaching, does not find it surprising how successful Bloom, 41, has been as the head coach of New Jersey state powerhouse Rutgers Prep.
“It’s a running joke I have today with Matt, who I’ve known since he was a teenager. Matt knew what he wanted to do, and he kept coming back, and it led to a job,” said Hill, 64. “I knew Matt would be successful at anything he did. I knew that when he came back day, after day, after day, after day. I just wanted to give him parental advice when he first came to me at Rutgers. I turned him away because I didn’t want him to waste that Penn degree. I saw him as a leader in the corporate world. I’m glad to see what he’s doing now and how successful he has been at Rutgers Prep.
“Coaching basketball is what Matt always wanted to do. You saw that when Matt was a senior in high school by the way he ran camps and how he dealt with people then. We got Matt in the door for a job way below his intellectual level. He had a passion. When we gave him an opportunity, he was phenomenal. I tried talking him out of it. I’m glad I did not because you see what Matt is doing today.”
What Bloom is doing today is taking the Argonauts to historic heights. This season, Bloom is entering his seventh year. In his first season in 2018, his team went 16-10 with a young squad that lost the Somerset County championship, while he made the commute from Narberth, Pennsylvania, to New Brunswick, New Jersey. In his second season, the Argonauts were 18-9, with a program dealing with several players that had transferred out. In his third season, Bloom directed a team that finished 27-2, was nationally ranked, won the Somerset County championship for the first time since 1983 behind Villanova-bound Trey Patterson, while playing six players. The Argonauts lost to Wildwood Catholic in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Non-Public Group A South state sectional semifinals. Later, Bloom found out half of his team suffered from COVID-19 during the state playoffs.
In 2021, Bloom’s fourth season, the Argonauts went 6-4. The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out a national schedule and a season in which the Argonauts were nationally ranked, losing Patterson early for Villanova, which Bloom encouraged. In 2022, a team Bloom loves because of the unselfish energy the team possessed and how it overachieved in going 26-4, the Argonauts went on to win the NJSIAA Non-Public Group A South state sectional championship for the first time in Rutgers Prep history and lost to Bergen Catholic in the state finals. Last season, the Argonauts went 22-8, with a senior-heavy team that won the county championship, Bloom’s second (2020 and 2023), and reached the sectional semifinals.
This season, Bloom has a talented young group back, topped by 6-foot-11 rising sophomore Logan Franz, rising 6-2 freshman guard Jacob Canton, and 6-7 rising freshman Andrew Kretkowski, who all possess massive potential on a national level, and 5-10 rising freshman guard Rocco Loomis. John Kelly, a 6-8 rising senior, missed the summer with a broken foot and will be counted on to be a leader.
“I like to say I’m the sum of all my experiences, and in a world that is so complicated, when you put the blinders on and focus on the work and getting better every day, you’re going to do amazing things,” Bloom said. “I’ve been fortunate to have a talented group of kids. It’s exciting when that group comes together. The highs, the lows, the dark days, it’s all part of the process. I think the biggest difference in me personally is that I’ve learned from all my experiences.
“I can’t make demands of my players that I would not demand of myself. I try to learn from everyone I speak to. You have to go through some things to learn. I learned you don’t take things personally. Whatever happens, happens. I’m in a position where I’m content. I wasn’t always. It all worked out.”
There were plenty of times when it looked like it would not.
Rutgers Prep coach Matt Bloom paces the sidelines during a game against Cardinal O'Hara this past season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The oldest of two, Bloom graduated from Teaneck High School in 2000 and Penn in 2004 with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE). His parents tried everything they could to pry him from his basketball love at a very young age. They saw him leaning towards coaching. He even had an Uncle Ronnie, who was a family cousin, that was a coach who insisted he not go into coaching.
Matt did not listen.
His college choices to attend were based on what schools had prominent basketball programs. Both parents went to Rutgers and saw Matt one day as a doctor, a lawyer, or if he really wanted to go down the sports career path, “let’s see what field a short Jewish guy could do well in, like being an agent,” Matt said, laughing. “We were always compromising. They wanted me to go to law school, whatever field would provide for me and my family. I was pulled in a lot of different directions.
“I found you have to be all in. You have to be all in when you want to go into sports, or coaching. I remember driving back from visiting Duke and stopped in Philadelphia to make a bathroom stop on Penn’s campus. I fell in love with the place. The school was good in basketball, it’s a great academic school and before I even got my books, I went to coach (Fran) Dunphy about wanting to be a manager. To this day, I consider Dunph my basketball mentor.
“Between coach Dunphy and (former La Salle) coach (John) Giannini, they’re two of the best human beings that I’ve ever met. They are leaders in life. When I do anything, I think about what coach Dunphy would say, and how coach G would think and how he sees the world.”
Upon graduation, Matt was offered by Dunphy the position of Penn’s Director of Basketball Operations. To appease his parents, Matt instead chose to take a job as a legal assistant with Skadden Law Firm in New York City at 21.
He hated every second of it.
Two years later, he put in his resignation notice the day he received a major bonus. He was physically there. Mentally, he was someplace else.
Besides getting the PPE degree at Penn, Bloom also found the love of his life, who went on to eventually become his wife, Alicia. They met, not ironically, at the Palestra.
“I remember those times when he was with the law firm, Matt was miserable, he was always tired from working 100 hours a week,” recalled Alicia, who is an executive for a healthcare company. “When we would talk on the phone, I would hear how unhappy he was. Matt would finally get a day off over the weekend, and he dreaded going back to the office. He hated it. He would mope around. It was like he was stuck in this dungeon.
“I remember encouraging him to take the path he wanted, not the path other people wanted him to take. Matt had to take his path. I do recall talking to him after he got his bonus. He went as far as taking the LSAT and doing well, and not wanting to go to law school. I told him not to do it. I knew what he wanted to do. Matt had to do what he wanted.”
Had he taken the job as Penn’s DOBO right out of college, his progression through basketball would have been smooth. His rise would have been on an organic tree of succession. Since he did not, his development in the basketball community took a jagged route, filled with potholes and curves, forcing him to take jobs for less money, forcing him to work multiple jobs to make ends meet while Alicia was finishing grad school.
He had to prove his worth at every step.
After resigning from Skadden, Bloom began his basketball journey in Hill’s office. At Rutgers, Bloom quickly rose from working Hill’s camps before officially coming on to Hill’s staff.
Bloom worked under Hill at Rutgers from 2006 to 2010, when Hill was fired in April 2010 sending Bloom once more into limbo. From there, Bloom, through a basketball connection at La Salle, took a job in academic support, while running the Monroe Sports Center in Monroe Township, New Jersey.
His days were challenging. He would question himself where he was going. He was three years into his marriage with Alicia and they were thinking about having a child.
In 2010, he would get up around 6 a.m. every weekday morning, be on La Salle’s campus tutoring athletes from 8 a.m. to 12-noon. Then, he would take the two-hour round trip drive up to Monroe to manage the gym from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., keeping his window open and blasting the radio on the ride home to stay awake. He was running on the adrenaline of a dream he had since he was seven.
“I really questioned myself,” Matt recalled. “I could not sustain that. I do not know what drove me, but I have a good idea.”
Coaching a nine-year-old basketball team in Monroe, which so happened to have little Trey Patterson and Noah Harris, two players Bloom would eventually coach at Rutgers Prep.
“That year coaching those kids rekindled my love for coaching, and it’s a year that was extremely impactful for me, building relationships and helping people,” Matt recalled. “That year was a bit of a blur. I don’t know how I did it. I remember keeping the window down and the music loud on the way home (laughs).”
In 2011, a video coordinator position opened up at La Salle. That’s what got Bloom into the door. From 2011 to 2013, Bloom was La Salle’s video coordinator, and from 2014 to 2016, he was elevated to Director of Basketball Operations under Giannini.
“Harris Adler was one of my assistant coaches who had known Matt at Penn, and spoke extremely high of him,” remembered Giannini, who is currently Rowan’s athletic director after being at La Salle for 14 years. “In 2010, we did not have anything open at that time, but we had the academic support position open. He did a great job with the kids. Matt relates well to everyone.
“We then got Matt as our video coordinator and we gradually moved him to director of operations, where he did a tremendous job. Matt has so many positive qualities, and his intelligence has a lot to do with it — because he’s humble. He’s always going to be the smartest guy in the room but he will never portray himself that way. He is beyond passionate, beyond committed, he’s absolutely convicted to his calling, which is to not only enjoy coaching, but improve people’s lives.
“Matt has sacrificed a lot of money and a lot of opportunities to do exactly what he loves and believes he should be doing.”
When Giannini left La Salle, Bloom was left groping again for something tangible. In 2017, Matt took a high school interview at Rutgers Prep. Initially, he did not think he would get the job. Once he stepped on the Somerset County campus, everything felt right.
His parents come to Rutgers Prep games. Alicia does not miss a game bringing the couple’s son Eli.
“It doesn’t feel like work, but I had to get over adversity everywhere,” Matt said. “I think it’s made me better. I remember the times I had to open a gym up at three in the morning while I was in my 30s with a young son. Those are the moments when you think about doing other things. I don’t know why I took the Rutgers Prep interview. But I’m happy I did. This has been incredibly fulfilling, and every day I get the chance to help young people reach their dreams.”
Alicia sees the nuances in her husband, who she has been married to for 15 years and has known for 20. The Blooms live across the street from Rutgers Prep. Matt is a history teacher at the school and Alicia works from home.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Matt happier,” she said. “He’s doing something he loves to do and is making an impact. That’s all he wanted. I couldn’t be prouder of him and his commitment.
“Matt is where he has always wanted to be. For me, it’s such a joy to watch what he’s built and continues to build. It’s incredible. He genuinely loves what he does.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.