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Phil Anastasia: Valore as Camden coach? Really?

To appreciate fully the wonderful absurdity of the real possibility that John Valore will be the next boys' basketball coach at Camden High School, it's helpful to turn the page back to 1986.

To appreciate fully the wonderful absurdity of the real possibility that John Valore will be the next boys' basketball coach at Camden High School, it's helpful to turn the page back to 1986.

That was a long time ago. But that is the point: There's a lot of history between this coach and that team.

Valore was the coach at Cherry Hill East from 1976 to 2011. That was 36 seasons. That was time enough to win 500 games and get his name painted on the court and pretty much establish himself as the face of that program.

During much of Valore's tenure at Cherry Hill East - and this is especially true of his first 15 years, when the coach was younger and still trying to make his mark - one of his team's fiercest rivals was Camden.

And Camden in those days wasn't just a South Jersey power or a state power.

Camden was a national power.

Especially in 1986.

That was the year Camden went 31-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.

And one big reason that Camden was ranked No. 1 in the nation was the Panthers won two games against Cherry Hill East.

Those were two of Cherry Hill East's three losses.

That was Valore's best team. The Cougars had four seniors who were 1,000-point scorers: twin forwards Nick and Tom Katsikis, who were Temple recruits, as well as guard Frank Williams and center Marc Levy.

That team was terrific.

The Cougars just couldn't beat the Panthers.

And that Camden team, led by Cincinnati recruit Louis Banks and sophomores Vic Carstarphen and Denny Brown, cemented the Panthers' reputation as a team renowned for its mental toughness and ability to find ways to win close games.

Anybody in the gym when those teams played in 1986 - with Valore on one sideline, and Camden's Clarence Turner on the other, with capacity-plus crowds roaring at every big play - would have thought it would be 1,000 years, if not longer, before Valore would be coaching the guys in purple and gold.

It took only 27.

Valore is expected to be recommended as the next Camden coach during the Camden Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.

If he is approved - a likely scenario, but no sure thing given the uniqueness of the move, and the unpredictability of the political, behind-the-scenes maneuvering that always seems to be a part of the Camden school scene - he will take over Turner's old program.

"Coach Turner is on his way from Chicago. LOL," a guy close to the program said by text on Friday morning.

Turner, who is battling Alzheimer's disease, moved to Chicago shortly after retiring in 2008.

It's not that Valore and Turner were enemies.

It's just that they were so different, and so intertwined with two programs that were so different.

Turner was Camden with all that implies as far as the city the team represents and the full-court pressure defense and tri-colored warm-ups and the "You Want The High, You Got the High" chants and the rugged, in-your-face competitiveness.

Valore was Cherry Hill East with all that implies as far as the suburb the team represents and the matchup, half-court zone defense and the red-and-white uniforms and the "Cougar Crazies" in the bleachers with their "In Valore We Trust" T-shirts and the coach's complete and utter embrace of the three-point shot.

Basketball is basketball. The sport always has been a link between the programs and the towns - the Panthers and Cougars often have been in the same conference and the same group.

And there's no reason that Valore can't teach his vision of the sport to Camden kids and win games and sway those skeptics in the city's streets.

He'll need a strong staff of assistants, but with former Camden great Arthur Barclay likely to stick around as a volunteer - and some other legends lining up to back the move - the veteran coach will have support.

But back in 1986, it wasn't tough to imagine Clarence Turner coaching Cherry Hill East or John Valore coaching Camden.

It was impossible.

On Wednesday night, the world of South Jersey basketball just might turn upside down.