Vic Carstarphen says sometimes John Valore will call him on his cellphone and ask, "Victor, where am I?"

It's a fascinating question.

In a narrow sense, Valore is just asking his assistant coach for directions. He's driven another player home after a practice or a game at Camden High School and he's trying to find his way around an unfamiliar section of the city.

But Valore could ask the same thing about his coaching career in his 38th season and his life in his 70th year.

As he paces the sideline during games in his black sweat suit with Camden insignia, the tall, thin Valore doesn't look out of place. He doesn't look uncomfortable.

But it's a strange sight, all the same: Valore and Camden, South Jersey basketball's Odd Couple.

"I didn't think that would ever happen," Valore said the other night, pondering the implausibility of winning the 600th game of his career as the coach at Camden.

And that milestone is not the half of it, either. Valore also has won the first two South Jersey titles in his career as the coach at Camden.

On Sunday at 2 p.m., Valore will be gunning for his first state title as Camden meets Newark Tech in the Group 2 championship game at Rutgers University.

"I might retire," Valore said with a sly smile of his anticipated reaction to his first state title.

He might have been kidding.

Or maybe not.

He knows it would be some sweet exit, an unforgettable final scene in a storybook script that might work as a Lifetime movie - longtime suburban basketball coach ends career by leading his old inner-city rival to his first state title.

Who would pitch that?

Valore won his first game at Cherry Hill East in December 1976. He won 549 games in 35 seasons with the Cougars.

He became synonymous with the program, the face and voice and personality of Cherry Hill East basketball - the name they painted on the court in the big gym in the prototypical suburban town.

Even now, after nearly two full seasons, after 47 victories, after two South Jersey titles, it's still a little surreal to see Valore on the Camden sideline.

Valore was at Cherry Hill East forever and a day. And while Cherry Hill and Camden might be a few miles apart, when it came to basketball during Valore's heyday with the Cougars and coach Clarence Turner's legendary time with the Panthers, they might as well have been on different planets.

"I've been on the [losing] side many times, when I used to play against Camden," Valore said after Camden beat Haddonfield in the South Jersey Group 2 title game Monday night. "It's nice to be here now."

Valore has thrown himself into the Camden job. At the age of 70, he still amazes assistant coaches Carstarphen and Arthur Barclay, a pair of former Camden stars, with his energy and enthusiasm.

In a lot of ways, Valore is as much a director of basketball operations as head coach. He loves the ancillary aspects of the job - the scheduling, the logistics, the big-picture stuff.

Carstarphen marvels at Valore's contacts and his ability to "pull in all these outside resources" to the benefit of Camden basketball.

That includes everything from new Nike gear for the team to the painting of the court in honor of former star Dajuan Wagner to the new scoreboards in the gymnasium to the creation of a new showcase tournament, the Camden High School Invitational.

Valore wasn't alone in making those things happen. Athletic director Mark Phillips played a major role as well, among many others.

But Valore was the driving force. He loves that part of the sport. He loves making sure there was a painted basketball in a glass case to present to juniors Brad Hawkins and Jamal Holloway after each scored his 1,000th point this season.

The new showcase event, which drew a good crowd for five games Feb. 21 despite heavy snow, was another example of Valore's impact on Camden basketball beyond wins and losses.

"People need to come into this city, need to come into this gym with all its history," Valore said of the gymnasium named after Turner, his former nemesis.

It wouldn't be true to say all of Camden's basketball supporters have embraced Valore. He still hears criticism from the stands about his coaching style, his substitution patterns, his outsider status.

And there are former players who have maintained their distance from the program, apparently because they are uncomfortable with the team's leadership.

Carstarphen, a Camden star in the late 1980s who played at Temple, and Barclay, a Camden standout in the late 1990s who played at Memphis, both believe the coach has been a great addition to the proud old program.

But Carstarphen still shakes his head in wonder at the improbability of it all.

"I tell him he's writing an unbelievable final chapter," Carstarphen said. "Suburban coach for all those years, comes to an inner-city school and does this - that's an incredible book right there.

"Who would write that?"

panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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