By Phil Anastasia
The football in Brad Hawkins' future and past made the difference in the best basketball game of his high school career.
The 6-foot sophomore from Camden flashed the athletic ability and gritty determination that has prompted football scholarship offers from big-time programs such as Florida and South Carolina. He looked like a high Division 1 wide receiver.
But Hawkins drew on more than just his physical gifts. He also was motivated by the memory of Camden's stunning loss to the same opponent in the same round of the state tournament under much the same circumstances in a football game in November.
"This was payback," Hawkins said after scoring 25 points with eight rebounds in Camden's 66-57 victory over previously undefeated Haddonfield in the South Jersey Group 2 semfinals on Saturday. "I was having flash-backs to that game."
Sophomore forward Jamal Holloway added 15 points with nine rebounds and senior guard Tavaris Headen generated 12 points with four assists for fourth-seeded Camden (20-9), which advanced to play at second-seeded Pemberton on Tuesday's sectional final at 5:30 p.m.
Pembeton beat Medford Tech 60-57 in Saturday's other semifinal.
Junior swingman Jake Robinson scored 23 and junior guard Rob DePersia scored 16 for top-seeded Haddonfield (28-1), which finished the regular season as the No. 1 team in The Inquirer Top 10.
"They did to us what we normally do to teams," Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said of Camden's physical play. "They are such tough kids."
The victory sent Camden coach John Valore to a sectional final for the first time in his career. Valore previously coached at Cherry Hill East for 35 seasons and at Cumberland for one before taking over the Panthers' program in May.
"It feels great," Valore said. "I came close a lot of times."
The game between two of South Jersey's most successful and popular programs was played before a capacity-plus crowd in Haddonfield's gym.
An hour before the 3 p.m. tipoff, the gym was filled and hundreds of people stood outside in line.
"It just goes to show how many people love Camden High," Holloway said.
Hawkins scored 17 in the first half as Camden built a 29-24 lead. He got to the foul line 12 times, repeatedly powering through Haddonfield's defense and finishing strong at the rim.
"He took it to us," Wiedeman said.
Valore said Camden looked to get Hawkins the basketball in the middle of Haddonfield's three-quarter-court zone press, figuring he could turn and attack the basket.
"Brad is something special," Valore said. "You can put him in the Coliseum and he'll win over the Lions."
Hawkins' traditional three-point play gave Camden a 49-40 lead early in the fourth quarter. A three-point jumper by junior guard Rasool Hinson off a feed from Headen made it 54-44 with 6:22 on the clock.
Haddonfield fought back behind Rob DePersia and Robinson but could never catch Camden.
"We had to work hard for shots and they got easier shots," Wiedeman said.
The game was almost a mirror image of the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals in football, when Camden was the undefeated, top-seeded home team and Haddonfield was the No. 5 seed. In that game, the visitors emerged with the 45-19 victory on cold Nov. 23 afternoon at Farnham Park.
Hawkins said the football result was motivation for him to flip the script in basketball.
"I was hurt by that," Hawkins said. "Now it was my turn to be happy and their turn to be hurt."
Camden 11 18 17 20 -- 66
Haddonfield 16 8 16 17 -- 57
C: Tavaris Headen 12, Jamal Holloway 15, Brad Hawkins 25, Rasool Hinson 6, Will McCants 4, Jamil Maddred 2, Nasir Money 2.
H: Nick DePersia 10, Rob DePersia 16, Jake Robinson 23, Ted Stavetski 4, Abby Bah 4.
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