Camden High School has reached back to its rich past to find a basketball coach to lead the Panthers into the future.
Vic Carstarphen, who won two state titles as superb point guard for Camden in the 1980s, will be named the program’s head coach, the Inquirer has learned.
Carstarphen, who also was a standout player at Temple, will replace John Valore, who resigned after last season. Carstarphen was Valore’s top assistant for the former coach’s five seasons in charge of South Jersey’s most fabled boys’ basketball program.
Carstarphen’s hiring will end a dizzying coaching search that included a persistent rumor that former St. Anthony of Jersey City coach Bob Hurley, a Naismith Hall of Famer, was interested in taking the reins of the Camden program.
Hurley put the rumor to rest on Monday, saying he had “no idea” how speculation started that he would be Camden’s coach.
“I haven’t been in Camden County since I ate a cheesesteak there after a Temple game on Feb. 1, ” Hurley said. “Camden has a great tradition. St. Anthony has a great tradition. But there never will be a common denominator.”
Former Winslow Twp. coach Norm Ingram and former Woodbury coach Kenny Avent also are believed to have interviewed for the position.
Carstarphen was a star player for Camden during the program’s glory years under legendary coach Clarence Turner in the 1980s. He helped the Panthers to Group 4 state titles in 1986 and 1987.
He started his college career at Cincinnati. He transferred to Temple and led the Owls to an appearance in the Elite Eight of the 1991 NCAA tournament.
Carstarphen is popular with several generations of Camden alumni and could be seen as a coach who will reunite several factions of former Camden players.
The hiring of Valore, while endorsed by some former players, also led some prominent athletes of the past to disengage from the program because they viewed Valore as an outsider who had coached Cherry Hill East, a Camden rival, for 35 years.
Carstarphen is a Camden guy, through and through. He grew up in the downtown area of the city, near 5th and Spruce. He went to Wiggins Elementary school and made an early name for himself on the playgrounds near his home.
He and one of his closest friends, former Camden star forward Denny Brown, played on a Cramer Hill Boys’ Club team with future Woodrow Wilson stars Ron Damon and Eric Taylor, who would be sophomore starters for the Tigers’ team that won the Group 3 state title in 1985.
“We almost followed those guys to Wilson,” Carstarphen once said. “But we knew it had to be Camden High.”
Carstarphen was a sophomore starter for the 1986 Camden team that went 30-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. Those Panthers were South Jersey’s last unbeaten team.
In 1987, Carstarphen was part of another Group 4 state title team. The Panthers nearly made it three in a row, but the 1988 team lost in the state final to an Elizabeth team that featured 7-foot-1 Luther Wright.
“I’m still not over that game,” Carstarphen says all the time.
Now he has a chance to lead the Panthers back to state prominence and back to another state title, to capture the program’s elusive 12th crown.
This time, he’ll show the way from the sidelines.