By Phil Anastasia
It's easy to focus on the past when it comes to Camden High School basketball.
Cetshwayo Byrd doesn't forget about the future.
"Those guys are going to be good," Byrd said of freshmen Jamal Holloway and Brad Hawkins.
Holloway and Hawkins are aware of Camden's rich tradition. They are excited about their potentially prominent roles in the program over the next few seasons.
But they have something else on their minds: The present, which includes a championship game against Newark Eastside in the Group 3 state finals Sunday at Rutgers University.
"It's so exciting to be part of this," said Holloway, a 6-3 forward who has become one of the team's most consistent players over the second half of the season.
Holloway generated 11 points with nine rebounds on Thursday as Camden beat Lawrence 56-52 in the state semifinals at Eastern.
Hawkins, a 6-1 guard, added eight points, including three free throws in the final 25 seconds.
"I was trying not to be nervous," said Hawkins, who buried a pair of foul shots to give Camden a 55-51 lead with 0:25 on the clock. "I knew I had to be clutch for my teammates."
Camden (21-10) has surged to the state finals behind junior guard Tavaris Headen, who has averaged 23.4 points in five tournament games. The Panthers also have an inside presence in 6-7 senior Amir Maddred.
But the team's two freshmen have made a major impact. Hawkins scored 15 in the playoff opener against Camden County Tech and came through with a strong effort that included nine rebounds in Thursday's victory over Lawrence.
Holloway scored 18 in a second-round win over Winslow. He went for 17 points with eight rebounds in a victory over Moorestown in the South Jersey semifinals. And he was a big factor in Thursday's victory, going 5-for-5 from the foul line and converting a key three-point play as Camden rallied in the third quarter.
"He's always in the right spot," Byrd said of Holloway. "And now he's starting to finish."
Hawkins' development was slowed in mid-season by a fractured fibula in his left leg. He sat out for about a month with the injury.
But Hawkins' return has given the Panthers an active, athlete presence on the perimeter.
"I had him on the football team so I knew he was tough," Byrd said of Hawkins. "You need tough guys on the basketball court. You need guys who will do the dirty work."
Holloway and Hawkins said they both cherish the opportunity to play for Camden as freshmen, especially since the Panthers have reached the state championship game.
"It means a lot," Hawkins said. "We know the past we have in this program. We're trying to bring it back."
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