The old coach is never far from the new coach.
"We talk on the phone two, three, four times a day," Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen said.
Stop. Reread six words near the end of that last sentence: Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen.
Sounds funny, right? Like something is off center or out of place.
For the last 35 years, from the fall of 1976 through the end of last season, the basketball coach at Cherry Hill East was John Valore.
Valore is synonymous with that program, like Paul Rodio at St. Augustine, Jim Crawford at Camden Catholic, Tom Feraco at Middle Township, and Joe Kessler at Shawnee.
When you think Cherry Hill East basketball, you think John Valore.
When Dave Allen thinks Cherry Hill East basketball, he thinks John Valore.
"This is his program," Allen said.
Those are serious shoes to fill. Like, size 18, EEEs.
Valore was more than just a basketball coach at Cherry Hill East. He was a presence, a personality, a unique character who did things his way, without compromise or apology.
That's why students at Cherry Hill East used to attend games wearing red T-shirts with the slogan, "In Valore We Trust," printed on the back.
Allen has the same slogan tattooed on his heart.
"He's like my dad," Allen said of Valore.
That makes for an odd transition to a new era in Cherry Hill East basketball. It's normal, natural, and Allen is the right man for the job. But it's bittersweet, too.
Allen is a Cherry Hill East guy. He played for Valore, graduating in 1989. He was an assistant under Valore last season.
But if Allen had his way, Valore still would be walking the sideline in his familiar, long-legged stride. He still would be barking at officials. He still would be the face of the program.
"I told him not to leave," Allen said. "I wanted him to keep coaching. I wanted him here this year, next year, as long as he wanted to stay."
Valore decided to retire after last season. Allen was the obvious choice, probably the only choice.
Allen isn't trying to put his stamp on the program. He's not that kind of guy. He's not one of those loud, driven, ambitious coaches determined to show how his way is better than the old way.
His way is Valore's way. He learned under his old coach. He believed in him.
"It's more than just wins and losses," Allen said. "It's the principles he established with this program. The dedication. The loyalty. You couldn't have a 99 percent commitment. You had to have a 100 percent commitment.
"Respect. Team first. Be selfless. Be on time. If we have an 8 o'clock practice, you don't show up at 7:40. You show up at 7:15 or 7 o'clock.
"He spent all those years building this program. He established something that I'm trying to keep going."
Allen wants Valore around the program. The old coach was in the stands the other day, as Cherry Hill East was scrimmaging at St. Augustine.
For the new coach, that's not an awkward situation. That's a comfort. That's a show of support.
"I want Coach around," Allen said. "We eat breakfast together once a week. That's not going to change. That's never going to change."
Valore is everywhere around the Cherry Hill East program. His legacy hangs in the air, his record hangs on the wall of the gymnasium, and on Dec. 30, his name will be painted on the basketball floor during a ceremony to honor the old coach.
Allen built strong programs as a head coach at Eastern and Cherry Hill West. He's his own man, his own coach. He's a competitor.
But this might be his biggest challenge. He's a loyal guy, but his task is a little tricky.
He needs to take Cherry Hill East basketball into the future without letting go of the past. He needs to stand tall - but not let anyone forget that he'll always be leaning on his old coach.
"There's a lot of pressure," Allen said. "I want to try to keep the tradition going. I don't want to let him down."