A few years ago, Jake Silpe was a middle-school hotshot who used to sit in the stands at Cherry Hill East and watch the Cougars under longtime coach John Valore.
"He has a great reputation in Cherry Hill," Silpe said of Valore. "Everyone loves him."
On Friday, Silpe ruined Valore's return to the court that bears his name.
With 14 points, seven assists, and near-flawless ballhandling against pressure defense, the junior point guard led Cherry Hill East to a 58-51 victory over Camden.
"The secret behind that team is Jake," Valore said after the emotional game before a large crowd at the Virginia Whittaker Holiday Tournament at Cherry Hill East.
Senior guard Austin Wetzler added 18 points, making four three-point jumpers, and sophomore center Tim Perry, son of the former Temple and NBA player of the same name, added 16 points, six rebounds, and four blocks for East (3-0).
Sophomore forward Jamal Holloway generated 21 points with 11 rebounds and sophomore guard Brad Hawkins had 21 points and four steals for Camden (3-1), the No. 9 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings.
"Our big guys, who are inexperienced, rose to the occasion in a playoff atmosphere," Cherry Hill East coach Dave Allen said, referring to Perry and senior forward Tom Smierciak (seven points, eight rebounds, five assists).
Valore conceded that it was "strange" to be the visiting coach on John Valore Court, emerging from the visiting locker room and standing in front of the visitors bench in the gym where he had coached Cherry Hill East from 1976 to 2011.
Allen, a 1989 graduate who played under Valore and served two stints as an assistant coach for the man he considers a father figure, said the crowd that filled nearly the entire double-deck seating section across from the benches was a tribute to Valore.
"I told his wife before the game, 'Win or lose, he's already won today,' " Allen said. "You had people here from Florida, from North Carolina, from Maryland. That was because of him.
"He built a tradition here that's unlike any other. Now he has Cherry Hill people rooting for Camden, and we used to be such big rivals."
In its first season under Valore, Camden broke to a 3-0 start despite the absence of senior guard Tavaris Headen, a first-team all-South Jersey selection last season who remains out of the lineup for personal reasons.
The Panthers struggled to shoot from distance against the Cougars. Camden was just 3 for 24 from three-point range.
"Our weakness got exposed," Valore said. "We played hard, did some good things. . . . It's a journey. It's going to take a little bit of time."
Valore said Silpe's ballhandling was the key to the game.
"He's a very fine guard," Valore said. "He created openings. He handled our pressure."
Cherry Hill East seized command in the second quarter, as Wetzler hit two three-pointers, Perry grabbed four rebounds, and Silpe dished a pair of assists. The Cougars took a 28-18 lead at the break as the Panthers were 1 for 13 from three-point range.
Silpe found Perry for layups on the first two possessions of the second half. That stretched the lead to 14, and the Cougars patiently protected the advantage with smart ballhandling and good free-throw shooting.
"The difference in the game was that we didn't let them create a lot of turnovers," Silpe said. "We wanted to control the tempo, play at our pace."
Camden 12 6 13 20 - 51
Cherry Hill East 14 14 15 15 - 58
C: Brad Hawkins 21, Jamal Holloway 21, Will McCants 6, Rasool Hinson 3.
CHE: Jake Silpe 14, Austin Wetzler 18, Phil Cunha 3, Tim Perry 16, Tom Smierciak 7.
Cherry Hill East's Jake Silpe looks back at the victory over Camden.