It's often a question asked early in any season and one that doesn't lend itself to a definite answer. After seeing Bishop Eustace's dominating 80-58 win yesterday over visiting Camden in an Olympic Conference National Division boys' basketball game, the questions were coming as fast as Crusaders buckets.

Is Eustace, a team that was 11-14 last season, this good this soon? Or has Camden, coming off last season's South Jersey Group 2 title, regressed?

Actually, since it's only one game, the answer is Eustace is improved, and Camden should be a factor come March.

In the preseason, Eustace was mainly an afterthought when discussing the Olympic Conference National Division, where The Inquirer's No. 2- and No. 3-ranked South Jersey teams reside.

They would be Camden Catholic and Paul VI. And, of course, Camden is also in the National.

What yesterday showed was that if Camden is the fourth-best team in the division, then it's some division, but we knew that already.

What wasn't as clear was how much Eustace has improved from last year, when the Crusaders lost both games to Camden by a total of 25 points.

"It's a great way to open the season, but it's only one game," Eustace coach Bob Falconiero said.

Falconiero didn't seem surprised by a dominating effort that had the Crusaders lead, 45-29, at halftime and never be seriously challenged in the second half.

"I think we're a pretty good team," he said.

So does Camden coach Mike Stargell.

"I think Bishop Eustace is better than most people think," Stargell said.

Eustace has a nice mix of seniors and sophomores. The Crusaders were led yesterday by 6-foot-2 sophomore Dexter Harris, who scored 21 points by shooting just seven times from the field.

Now that's production.

Harris was 5 for 7 from the floor and 11 for 14 from the foul line.

Classmate Carson Puriefoy added 17 points, while 6-3 senior Pat Vasturia scored 17, all but two coming in the second half.

In addition, 6-4 senior Will Clements did a lot of the dirty work inside, and senior point guard Bob Falconiero, son of the coach, had 10 points and one fine floor game.

Sophomore forward Sho DaSilva, who has been hampered by injury in the preseason, came off the bench to score seven of his nine points in the first half.

For coach Falconiero, this was one of the few times he could smile this week. On Thursday, he buried his mother, Stella, who died suddenly last Saturday at the age of 84.

"She was not sick, and all of a sudden she passed away," the coach said. "It's been a very difficult time."

After yesterday's win, Falconiero wistfully recalled how his mother was such a passionate fan of the Eustace program.

"She loved the team," he said.

After her passing, Falconiero spoke briefly to his team about the situation.

"He told us about it and told us that we had to stay focused," Puriefoy said.

And the team surely followed its coach's orders.

While Eustace was in fine form, Camden is a work in progress. Stargell said that the Panthers expect three players who are not yet eligible to join the team within a few weeks.

He also went out of his way to remind everybody that it shouldn't take anything away from Eustace's effort.

"There are no excuses," Stargell said. "Eustace played a very good game."

So the conclusion is that this was just one game, albeit a great one for Eustace and not-so-great one for Camden.

We're probably not going out on a limb with one other conclusion even after one game: It will be no fun for any opponent to have to face a new and improved Eustace team this season.

Camden 20 9 12 17 - 58

Bishop Eustace 26 19 20 15 - 80

C: Vincent Walls 25, Karon Waller 2, Michael Myers 17, Devon Devine 10, Xavier Nobles 4.

B: Carson Puriefoy 17, Will Clements 4, Pat Vasturia 17, Sho DaSilva 9, Bob Falconiero 10, Dexter Harris 21, Scott Hyland 2.