By Phil Anastasia
The old gym looks the same: Painted brick walls adorned with banners that celebrate some of the best players and teams in New Jersey basketball history.
The floor at center court still is painted to commemorate 11 state championship seasons.
And just beyond the three-point line, the writing on the floor still reminds everyone of the most famous coach to prowl the sideline in front of the Camden bench. This is, after all: "Clarence Turner Gymnasium."
But make no mistake: Monday night was the start of a new era in Camden High School basketball.
"Go, go, go," new coach John Valore yelled during his first practice as Camden's new basketball coach.
Valore, who was appointed as Camden's coach by the state department of education's monitor of the school system on May 31, put his new players through a two-hour practice that emphasized conditioning, ball-handling and three-point shooting.
Valore was helped by three former Camden players who combined for nearly 7,000 points during their careers in purple and gold: Vic Carstarphen (class of 1988), Arthur Barclay (2000) and Dajuan Wagner (2001).
"I just want to give back," said Carstarphen, who led Camden to a pair of Group 4 state titles and also was a standout player for John Chaney at Temple University.
Carstarphen and Barclay, an all-state center on Camden's 2000 Tournament of Champions-winning team who later played at Memphis, plan to be members of Valore's coaching staff.
Wagner, widely regarded as the best player in South Jersey history and the No. 6 pick in the 2002 NBA draft, plans to assist the program in an unofficial capacity.
"These guys and a lot of other people are the reason I'm here," Valore said of the former players as well as others in the school, city and the area basketball community who have been supportive of his move to take command perhaps the most storied athletic program in South Jersey history. "I'm surrounded by some great people."
Valore, 68, has first-hand knowledge of Camden's legacy. He was the head coach for 35 years at Cherry Hill East, and his best teams used to battle some of Turner's top teams at Camden.
"I never saw this happening," Valore said of becoming Camden's coach. "But it's a great opportunity. It keeps me in coaching, and that's what I want to do. I want to be out here, working with these kids."
There were about 15 players at Camden's first practice of the summer, including key members of last season's South Jersey Group 3 champions such as junior Tavaris Headen and freshmen Jamal Holloway and Brad Hawkins.
Valore kept the Panthers moving with a series of drills designed to help the players become comfortable with his fast-paced system.
"Just hearing and watching the man, he knows basketball," said Jamal Holloway, whose son of the same name was a top rebounder for the Panthers as a freshman. "He's real detailed, real precise."
Dhamiri Maddred, whose son Jamil is a member of the team, said "a lot of the faithfuls are upset," in reference to rumblings in the city over the suspension of former coach Cetshwayo Byrd as well as a hiring of Valore.
Maddred said Valore deserves a chance to prove he can be a success at Camden.
"Kids are kids," Maddred said. "The more he interacts with them, the better things will go."
Valore said he plans to install a high-tempo offensive system that features quick transition and a lot of three-point shooting.
"If you make shots, you win," Valore told his players. "If you miss shots, you lose."
Valore plans to practice Monday through Thursday until early August.
"We have 28-30 days to get things in," Valore said. "If they show up each and every day, we'll get better."
Valore said he was impressed with his new players.
"We don't have a lot of height but we have a lot of athletic ability," Valore said. "I want to get up and down the floor. If we get the system in, we could be exciting."
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.