By Phil Anastasia
John Valore knows the exact size of Cumberland Regional High School's sending district.
"It's 162 square miles," Valore said.
He paused for emphasis.
"And much of it is farmland."
Those rims nailed against the side of barns, those farmboys playing the sport against a backdrop of silos -- those are great scenes in "Hoosiers."
But that's a movie about Indiana high school basketball. Valore has taken over the basketball program in Cumberland County, not exactly a hotbed of hoops.
He's not complaining. His new team is 0-2 heading into Thursday night's game at Deptford but Valore is resisting the urge to focus on the final score.
"I'm coaching again," Valore said. "This is where I belong."
Valore spent 43 years as a coach at Cherry Hill East. He was the head coach for 35 seasons, compliling a 549-363 record while his teams played at the highest levels of area scholastic basketball -- in the Olympic Conference and in the South Jersey Group 4 sectional.
Now he's the coach at a school with little basketball tradition, in a place with a lot more cornfields than blacktop.
"God Bless the Garden State," Valore said. "This is the Garden State down here."
Valore said it's 47 miles from his home in Moorestown to Cumberland. He likes the drive, likes the scenery.
He likes things even better when he walks into the gymnasium. He's on the court again, coaching again. He's putting in his system, with a heavy emphasis on three-point shooting on offense and matchup zone on defense.
"This is my chance to teach these kids the way I see basketball," Valore said. "It's not the way everybody sees basketball but it's how I see basketball."
Cumberland senior forward Gabe Hemighaus said Valore has made an immediate impact.
"He knows so much about the game," Hemighaus said. "He's brought a lot of discipline, a big change."
Valore won 20 or more games 10 times at Cherry Hill East. His last team went 23-5 two seasons ago.
But he's a long way from the court that bears his name in Cherry Hill, from the raucous students who used to wear those red T-shirts with "In Valore We Trust" on the back.
Valore will forever be linked with Cougars basketball. And he has a street-smart, city-savvy way about him that only heightens the contrast between his background and the rural setting of his new program.
He's retired. His kids are grown. He's not concerned about his legacy.
He just wants to coach -- to hear the squeak of those sneakers during practice, to feel the excitement when that ball goes in the air for the opening tip.
"A few wins would be nice," Valore said. "But that's not what this is all about."