He had just won his debut as Camden boys' basketball coach, holding off a valiant Washington Township rally, and John Valore was relieved.
"All through the summer, I thought about it, through the fall and the practice sessions," Valore said after Camden's 56-53 victory over the visiting Minutemen in an Olympic Conference interdivisional game and the season opener for both.
"I am so glad it is out of the way."
Washington Township almost spoiled the game that had occupied Valore's mind for months. The Minutemen trailed by 12 points entering the fourth quarter but got to within 52-51 when Julian Jastrzebski scored two of his game-high 28 points on two free throws with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left.
Camden held on by hitting four consecutive free throws in one-and-one situations by Brad Hawkins and Jamal Holloway.
Other than being relieved, Valore enjoyed the homecoming, so to speak. Home in the sense that he returned to the Olympic Conference.
Valore, 69, coached Cherry Hill East from 1976 to 2011, winning 549 games. East competed in the Olympic, a conference considered among the best in South Jersey for many sports.
"It is a pleasure to be back in the Olympic Conference," said Valore, who coached Cumberland in the Tri-County Conference last season. "There is not a better brand of basketball played, day in and day out, than in the Olympic Conference."
It will take a while for Valore to get used to his players and vice-versa, but so far, both sides appear impressed with one another.
"He is a real good coach, he is hard on us, but I like that he is hard on us," said Hawkins, a sophomore guard and football standout who had a team-high 16 points. "We are in shape and we run a lot, and he is a real good coach and I like him."
Camden has to be in shape. Valore has never used a deep bench, and only six players saw action in the opener.
The Panthers are the defending South Jersey Group 3 champions and are ranked No. 10 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, so expectations remain high.
Camden played without all-South Jersey guard Tavaris Headen, who missed the game for what athletic director Mark Phillips termed "personal reasons."
The Panthers showed plenty of flaws in this opener, but some of that has to be attributed to a Washington Township team that never stopped fighting, something Valore was used to in all those years of coaching in the Olympic.
While disappointed with not winning, Township coach Matt Kiser saw some positives.
"I am pleased with our effort and we had our chances, and that is all we can ask for," Kiser said.
Valore saw the same thing. He said he was pleased with a lot of what his team did and understands that this Camden team is likely to be much better in February than in December.
"It's going to be a journey - each day, game, practice, we will get better," he said. "We were very fortunate to hit the foul shots at the end and win. It's always nice to win."
It's a feeling both Valore and the Camden program know well and should experience frequently together this season.
Washington Township 12 12 10 19 – 53
Camden 12 21 13 10 – 56
WT: Julian Justrzebski 28, John Schoelkopf 4, Christian Maiden 3, Brett Lawrence 11, Dom Nastasi 7.
C: Brad Hawkins 16, Jamil Maddred 8, William McCants 9, Rasool Hinson 10, Jamal Holloway 13.