In some ways, Valen Tejada is a typical Camden Catholic point guard.
He showed that at times on Tuesday, delivering a deft bounce pass to Uche Okafor for the team’s first basket, turning a pair of steals into breakaway layups, and finishing with five assists in a 62-40 victory over Cherry Hill East.
In other ways, Tejada is unlike any Camden Catholic point guard in the program’s rich history.
He’s the first to have spent four years in Norway, outfitting his game with some serious European flair, before returning stateside to play his senior season for the Irish.
“He definitely has that European skill set,” Camden Catholic coach Matt Crawford said.
Tejada played his finest game of the young season as the visiting Irish, the No. 4 team in the Inquirer preseason Top 25, handled the No. 14 Cougars on John Valore Court.
The 6-foot-2 Tejada generated 13 points along with three steals and those five assists. He shot 5-for-7 from the field and 2-for-2 from the foul line.
“I’m feeling more and more comfortable because my teammates are helping me out,” Tejada said.
Okafor, a senior forward, dominated the paint, finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds and three blocks as Camden Catholic improved to 2-1.
Senior guard Carl Gibson made four three-pointers and scored 20 for Cherry Hill East (1-1).
“I thought in the second and third quarter, we showed how good we could be,” said Crawford, whose team held a 43-14 advantage in the middle periods.
Tejada was in the thick of the action. He scored seven straight points early in the second quarter as the Irish turned a 15-14 deficit into a 21-15 lead.
“He’s a very smart player with a good floor game,” Crawford said of Tejada. “He’s done a great job of picking up all of our sets, and we have a lot of them.”
It’s not easy to play point guard for the Irish, who specialize in patient, precision offense with a premium on protecting the basketball.
Camden Catholic returned a veteran point guard in senior Pat Corbett, who helped the team to the Non-Public South A title last season. But Corbett suffered an ankle sprain in a scrimmage against Wildwood Catholic, likely sidelining him until early to mid-January, thrusting Tejada into the pivotal role.
“If Pat was healthy, Valen likely would be off the ball a little more, which would be a lot easier for him,” Crawford said.
Tejada flourished at the point against Cherry Hill East, which wasn’t able to keep the Irish from working the basketball inside to Okafor or to senior Baba Ajike (nine points) and sophomore Zach Hicks (10) on the wings.
“He’s been doing a great job,” Corbett said of Tejada.
Tejada said he lived in Pennsauken until he was 4 or 5. He moved to Tabernacle, where he lived and attended school until eighth grade.
Tejada moved to Norway and lived with his mother, Brittinger, as well as his sister in a town just outside of Oslo, the country’s capital.
Tejada said he played basketball in Norway’s amateur system and studied to become an electrician. He returned to South Jersey, where he lives with his father, Vasco, to finish high school and attend an American college.
“It’s a whole different style of basketball,” Tejada said of the high school game in New Jersey. “There are so many better athletes over here. But I’m adjusting. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Camden Catholic 9 21 22 10 – 62
Cherry Hill East 13 7 7 13 – 40
CC: Baba Ajike 9, Uche Okafor 21, Valen Tejada 13, Zach Hicks 10, Lucas Dunn 3, Justin Hawkins 6.