By Phil Anastasia
There always are echoes of old times in Clarence Turner Gymnasum, where the center circle is painted to commemorate 11 championship seasons and the tiled walls are adorned with banners that honor some of the best players and teams in state history.
But the past truly comes alive when Tarvais Headen takes the court for the Panthers.
It's not that Headen, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, has the same skill level of some former Camden greats, although the clever lefty generated 20 points, six steals and six assists in Saturday's 71-59 victory over Moorestown in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals.
It's more that Headen plays the game with the same steely-eyed mental toughness and raging competitive fire that was the trademark of the best Camden athletes.
If any current Camden player is reminiscient of old-school Camden players, it's Headen.
"When people tell me that, it motivates me even more," Headen said after leading Camden into the South Jersey finals for the second season in a row. "It makes me want to play even harder to live up to what those guys did before."
Camden (19-9), the No. 2 seed, got strong work from senior center Amir Maddred (12 points, eight rebounds, three blocks), sophomore guard Rasool Hinson (nine points, four assists) and freshman forward Jamal Holloway (17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) in busting open a close game before a near-capacity crowd.
But it was Headen who led the charge after Camden fell behind by 31-29 at halftime. Headen collected eight points, three steals and two assists in a 22-4 surge for the Panthers in the third quarter.
"He sets the tone for that team with his energy," said Moorestown coach Shawn Anstey, whose sixth-seeded team finished with a 13-14 record.
Camden coach Cetshwayo Byrd, whose team will host fourth-seeded Timber Creek in Tuesday's South Jersey final, said Headen carries the torch for Camden's tradition because of his competitive heart.
"The things he does on the floor, he does the same things in practice," Byrd said. "Whether it's 3-on-3 or a shooting drill, he does not want to lose."
Teams need players with Headen's mentality at this time of the season. Camden used to crank them out, year after year. That's why the Panthers have won 42 sectional titles along with those 11 state titles.
"He wants the ball," Byrd said of Headen. "He's not scared of the moment."
Headen has averaged 20.8 points in Camden's last 11 games. He's averaged 22.6 points in three tournament games. And he's the guy who made two free throws with 0:07 on the clock to lift the Panthers to victory over Lacey Township in last year's South Jersey Group 3 final.
"It's been my dream to come here and play for Camden," Headen said. "I want people to think of us like they used to think of the old Camden High."
Moorestown 8 23 4 24 -- 59
Camden 8 21 22 20 -- 71
M: Anthony Bonett 6, Jake Flannery 12, Eric Poinsett 2, Seth West 17, Deandra Montgpomery 17, Chris Li 2, Colin Francisco 3.
C: Jamal Holloway 17, Brad Hawkins 3, Rasool Hinson 9, Tavaris Headen 20, Amir Maddred 12, Jamil Maddred 6, Kirk Johnson 2, Kelvin Davis 2.
Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @PhilAnastasia.