PERTH AMBOY, N.J. - His first coaching victory was in December 1976: Cherry Hill East over Eastern.
"A long time ago," John Valore said.
Valore still is going strong, and so is his Camden High School basketball team.
With junior Brad Hawkins leading the way with 25 points, Camden beat Manasquan, 64-49, on Wednesday in the Group 2 state semifinals at Perth Amboy High School.
The victory was the 600th of Valore's career, which has encompassed 35 seasons at Cherry Hill East, one season at Cumberland, and two seasons at Camden.
"It means a lot," Valore said of the milestone victory.
Camden athletic director Mark Phillips presented Valore with the game ball in the locker room.
"He's a great coach," said Hawkins, who also collected 10 rebounds and six assists.
Jamal Holloway generated 13 points with 10 rebounds and senior guard Will McCants added 12 points for Camden (25-6), which advanced to the state championship game Sunday at Rutgers.
Camden will make its third consecutive appearance in the state final and will face the winner of the state semifinal Thursday night between Manchester and Newark Tech.
Camden lost to Newark Tech in last year's Group 2 state final and lost to Newark East Side in the Group 3 state final in 2013.
Camden has lost in its last five appearances in the state final under five coaches - Glen Jackson in 2001, Clarence Turner in 2005, Mike Stargell in 2009, Cetsh Byrd in 2013, and Valore in 2014.
"It stayed with me all summer," Valore said of last season's loss in the state final.
The Panthers burst from the gate and took a 29-12 lead as Hawkins scored 14 and McCants added nine.
"Intensity," Hawkins said of the key to the Panthers' quick start. "We came out ready to play."
Valore won 549 games in 35 seasons at Cherry Hill East. The court in the Cougars' gymnasium is named after him.
But Valore also has made his mark at Camden. His teams have won 47 games in two seasons with two South Jersey titles and two appearances in the state final.
At the age of 70, he still amazes assistant coaches such as Vic Carstarphen and Arthur Barclay, two former Camden stars, with his energy and enthusiasm.
"It starts at home," Valore said, his voice catching with emotion. "If not for the support of my wife [Joyce], I would never be able to coach and do the things that I want to be able to do for this program."
Valore never won a South Jersey title at Cherry Hill East. Now he is one win away from a state title at Camden, which was his nemesis for much of his career with the Cougars.
He was smiling when he said that if Camden wins Sunday, "I might just retire."
Camden 29 6 11 18 - 64
Manasquan 14 12 8 15 - 49
C: Brad Hawkins 25, Jamal Holloway 13, Rasool Hinson 8, Will McCants 12, Myles Thompson 6.