It was the best game of John Evans' life.

It also was the worst.

"That game, I don't have the words for it, to be honest," Evans said of Camden's 85-83 loss to West Side of Newark in the Group 2 state final last season at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

Evans, a crafty left-handed guard, scored a career-high 24 points that day. His three-point jumper gave Camden a 62-44 lead late in the third quarter.

But when Evans - and pretty much everybody else associated with South Jersey's most fabled program - thinks back to March 13 he can't help but recall the way things spiralled out of control for the Panthers in the fourth quarter.

Evans said his own superb play on the big stage means little to him. He wonders what more he could have done to prevent Camden from losing in the state championship game for the fourth year in a row.

"That game is not a proud game for me," Evans said the other night before a scrimmage against Wildwood Catholic. "That game is a disappointment. . . . I feel like I should have done something extra for my team, something in that last minute, to get the win for my team."

Evans and fellow senior Deaquan Williams and star juniors Corey Greer and Myles Thompson and sophomore guard Ethan Tarte and other veterans of that heart-breaking loss are lucky in this regard: They get another chance.

Evans and the rest of the Panthers begin pursuit of that elusive 12th state title as Camden opens the boys' basketball season Friday night at home against two-time defending South Jersey Group 3 champion Winslow Township.

It will be a special season for the Panthers regardless of the ultimate result as the old school at the corner of Baird and Park boulevards in the Parkside section of the city will be torn down after this school year to make way for a new facility.

The wrecking ball will take aim at Clarence Turner Gymnasium, perhaps the most famous home court in South Jersey basketball with its banners commemorating former great players and teams on the tan-tiled walls and its painting at halfcourt that marks the seasons of the program's 11 state titles.

"Just to be a senior on the last team to play in this gym, it makes you proud," Evans said.

More than any other player, Evans has a direct link to Camden's past.

Evans is a Camden guy, born and raised in the city. His father, also named John Evans, was a standout player for the Panthers, graduating in 1993.

"High socks," Evans said of his father's era.

Evans focused more on football as a youngster but turned to basketball as a middle-school athlete.

"My dad, he wasn't the type who said, 'You have to play this sport because I played it,' " Evans said. "I was more into football so he would talk to me about football.

"When I switched to basketball, he talked to me about Camden High and how he came up under Coach Turner. Camden High, it makes you hungry."

Despite his well-known name, Evans operates a little under the radar on his team, with more focus on Greer and Thompson - two of South Jersey's top juniors - as well as Williams, who has blossomed into an imposing big man in the last two years.

"That makes me push two times harder," Evans said. "I love my teammates. I love them to death. But that makes me want to push myself even more."

Camden coach John Valore said Evans has made steady progress over the course of his career, improving his quickness and conditioning.

Valore said the 5-foot-10 Evans could be on the brink of a big season.

"He understands the game of basketball," Valore said of Evans. "He's a scorer. He can shoot. He can penetrate. He can dish.

"Defensively, he has surprisingly quick hands and surprisingly quick feet."

Evans plays off the ball on most possessions but can switch with Greer and run the point as well. That versatility is one of Evans' strongest assets, according to his coach.

"Point guard, shooting guard, John can do it all," Valore said. "He and Corey are interchangeable. Add Ethan in there, and that gives us three guards who can really do some things for us."

Evans won't beat his chest about his superb play in the state final. But he admits his performance boosted his confidence and pushed him to work harder in the months since that buzzer sounded to end Camden's last game.

Plus, he knows there's a finality to this season - his last for Camden and the Panthers' last in the old gym in the old school.

"To be the last team to play in this gym and put '2017' on the middle of that floor," Evans said, "that would be lovely."

@PhilAnastasia