Camden Board 34 high school assignor Jeff Cohen recalled officiating the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Assocation's Tournament of Champions final between Jersey City parochial powerhouse St. Anthony and Shore Conference heavyweight Neptune in 2002.
The Scarlet Fliers were headlined by future Louisville star Taquan Dean and legendary coach Bob Hurley directed his top-ranked Friars to a 69-49 triumph.
It was a memorable experience.
And so were the seven NJSIAA state finals he officiated for high school boys and girls basketball.
Yet the "South Jersey wars" between Camden and Eastside (formerly Woodrow Wilson), Camden Catholic and Paul VI, Moorestown and Rancocas Valley, Haddonfield and Haddon Heights, Lenape and Shawnee, Gloucester and Gloucester Catholic, and many more, were the ones he remembered the most.
"When you're a South Jersey guy, there's nothing like a South Jersey war," Cohen said. "I'm a South Jersey guy. I don't know how else to put it."
Cohen's commitment to the South Jersey basketball community was acknowledged last Sunday. The longtime assignor and official was inducted into the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame, as selected by the Albert Carino Basketball Clubs of South Jersey, at the Holiday Inn on Route 70 in Cherry Hill.
"It's so humbling," Cohen said.
"I always wanted to go in a player, but those 13 career JV points just never got me over the top," he added jokingly. "It's very humbling. I'm just honored. I'm a South Jersey guy. I was just doing my job."
The 2023 Hall of Fame inductee is in his 21st year as the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials' Camden Board 34 High School Assignor of Officials. Prior to his current role, Cohen spent five years as an independent youth basketball assignor.
His dedication to South Jersey isn't meant to overshadow his contributions throughout the entire state. Cohen has served as the co-assignor for the NJSIAA for the past five years. He advises the organization on state tournament assignments in this capacity.
As the Board 34 assignor, Cohen is responsible for allocating games to referees in Burlington County, Camden County, half of Gloucester County and portions of Salem County.
His job is an elected position that is voted on by the basketball officials of Board 34 every two years. Cohen has run unopposed in each election.
It's a testament to the balance, professionalism and trust he has provided throughout the years.
Board 34 official Jason Lewer has worked with Cohen for 26 years ever since he relocated to South Jersey from New York. Their friendship is everlasting.
"I worked high school and then college ball with him as a referee," Lewer said. "I've been working directly for him as an official for all of his 21 years as the school assignor. He just knows how to be popular, but he's a humble guy."
Cohen became an official in 1984 and earned his certification to officiate varsity level high school basketball in 1986.
From 1994 to 2009, he officiated college basketball with assignments ranging from NCAA Division II and III matchups to National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) games.
The longtime assignor began to limit his officiating duties on the high school level after becoming the Board 34 assignor in 2001. From 2001 to 2009, he remained committed to fulfilling his officiating duties for college competitions while continuing to assign referees on the high school circuit.
His hard work never went unnoticed, and his professionalism was respected by coaches.
After all, Cohen always had the "magic."
"Officiating with Jeff brought unusual recognition," colleague Jack McCormick said. "Tough calls by me drew the usual coach's fire. Similar calls by Cohen, often in the same game, would send comments of praise and understanding his way. He had that magic about him."