UPDATED: Camden loses a legend in Clarence Turner


By Phil Anastasia

Vic Carstarphen said Clarence Turner's reputation covered the country the way the old coach's teams used to reach across the basketball court with pressure defense.

Carstarphen said people on the West Coast, down South and in big cities such as New York and Chicago knew of Turner and his fabled program at Camden High School.

"I've travelled a lot and no matter where I go, people know Camden High basketball," said Carstarphen, a former star basketball player at Camden and Temple University. "And they know Camden High basketball because of Clarence Turner."

Turner, the colorful, charismatic and occasionally controversial coach during the greatest era in Camden basketball history, died on Sunday.

Turner, 81, died of complications from Alzheimer's Disease, according to his son, Eric.

Turner was living in Chicago with his wife, Sharon, who has family in the area. Turner's body will be flown back to Camden this week for funeral services although details still were pendiing as of Sunday afternoon, according to Lisa Turner, Clarence's daughter.

"We lost a legend," former Camden star player Arthur Barclay.

Said former Camden coach Cetsh Byrd, a Camden graduate who led the program from 2010 through last season: "He was the heartbeat of the city."

Turner won 775 games and seven state titles in a career that ran from 1971 through 2008, save for four seasons from 1999-2002 when he was out of coaching.

Under Turner, Camden became a national power in the sport, setting a standard in South Jersey for big-game excitement, tournament sucess and country-wide visibility.

"He took us from an area program to a national program," said Carstarphen, who played for Turner's last state championship team in 1987. "He changed everything."

Turner coached some of the best players in state history, including future NFL stars such as Derrick Ramsey and Art Still -- who were powerful interior players for Turner's first state championship team in 1974 -- as well as Billy Culbertson, Milt Wagner, Kevin Walls, Louis Banks, Carstarphen and Dajuan Wagner, among many others.

Under Turner, Camden won state titles in 1974, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987. His 1986 team was 30-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.

"There wasn't a finer program than Camden High basketball," said current Camden coach John Valore, who spent 35 years as the coach at Cherry Hill East. "When you played Camden and you saw those crowds,it made you feel good about high school basketball."

In the 1970s and through the 1980s, Turner's teams dominated South Jersey basketball, drawing huge crowds to games that often felt like professional sporting events because of the caliber of play and excitement level in the gymnasiums.

Turner's teams were renowned for their mental toughness and clutch performances, especially in big games.

"His teams set the standard in our state in the 1970s and '80s," legendary St. Anthony of Jersey City coach Bob Hurley said. "We were bitter rivals. Bitter rivals. But by the time he retired, we had a respectful friendship. He was an outstanding coach."

Turner clashed at times with opposing coaches and administrators as well as officials from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which suspended his team from participating in the 1991 tournament and suspended him from coaching for the 1999 and 2000 seasons.

Both suspensions were reactions  to violence that occurred at Camden tournament games.

"He drew the ire of a lot of people," Carstarphen said. "But coach didn't care about. He protected us as players. He took the bullets for us and we always felt safe around him. He gave us so much confidence."

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter

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