Camden High’s fabled basketball program will be led by its fourth coach in the last four years during the 2020-21 season.
That’s because former NBA player and coach Rick Brunson has resigned as the Panthers' coach after one season, according to a statement from the school district.
Brunson, a star player at Temple who played nine seasons in the NBA and served as an assistant coach for two NBA teams, led Camden to a 29-1 record during the 2019-20 season. Camden was favored to win its first state title since 2000, having reached the Group 2 state semifinals, when the tournament was canceled on March 12 by the coronavirus outbreak.
“We would like to thank Coach Brunson for his contributions to the Camden High School Basketball Program and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors," Camden superintendent of schools Katrina McCombs said in a statement.
Camden athletic director Mark Phillips said Brunson made a major impact on the athletes in the program.
“Phenomenal coach and person, his impact on our program goes far beyond just basketball,” Phillips said in a text message. “Our players know he will always be just a phone call away if they need him. But he will be missed.”
The statement from the school district said that Phillips and Al Dyer, the district’s senior director of K-12 athletic programs would oversee the program and leadthe search for a new coach.
Brunson was Camden’s third coach in three seasons. John Valore, now the head coach at Holy Cross Prep, finished his five years as Camden’s coach during the 2017-18 season, and former Camden star player Vic Carstarphen, now a city councilman, was in charge of the program during the 2018-19 season.
Camden projects as one of the top squads in the country in 2020-21, although the team will be limited to 15 games with no out-of-state competition by guidelines for winter sports announced last month by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
In addition, basketball teams in New Jersey will not be allowed to compete beyond the sectional tournament, eliminating the possibility of a state championship.
Camden was ranked No. 7 in the country in MaxPreps' preseason Top 25 national ranking.
Camden sophomore D.J. Wagner, who averaged 18 points as a freshman, is rated the No. 1 player in the country in the class of 2023 by ESPN.com. The 6-foot-3 Wagner is the son of former Camden star Dajuan Wagner and the grandson of former Camden star Milt Wagner.
Camden’s roster includes several other top players, including senior Taquan Woodley, who recently de-committed from Penn State after the resignation of Nittany Lions coach Pat Chambers.
Brunson did not respond to a text message requesting comment. Highly regarded in the area of player development, Brunson has been rumored to be a candidate to join the New York Knicks organization, which is led by Cherry Hill East graduate Leon Rose and Pennsauken High grad William “Wes” Wesley, both of whom have close connections to the Camden program.