Open Gym: Camden High

“You want da High?”

“Yo Got da High!”

For decades that chant has roared from the student section in victory after victory as the storied Camden High School basketball program rolled over opponents… In recent years there has been a steady uptick in a program that had fallen on hard times.

Camden has regained it’s place of prominence among South Jersey programs. The question… The ONLY question that matters, is… Does Camden have what it takes to compete with the powerhouse programs in North Jersey?

The names are very familiar… St. Benedict’s, The Patrick School, Hudson Catholic, Rosselle Catholic and Immaculate Conception… With the closing of mighty St. Anthony’s and the retirement of it’s legendary Hall of Fame Coach, Bob Hurley, New Jersey basketball supremacy is up for grabs.

For the first time in recent memory, Camden High may be among the elite programs in the state. They have tremendous size, athleticism and experience.

All of that was on display in an “Open Gym” at the Camden Boys and Girls Club across the street from the now shuttered “Castle on the Hill.” The buzz around this year’s team is palpable. Upon entering the gym, I was warmly greeted by highly respected, long-time independent scouts Chick Gillespie and Allen Rubin. These guys sniff out talented college prospects as well as anyone in the nation.

Seated in the bleachers observing were some of the finest college players of the past 30 years. Pervis Ellison was watching intently. Ellison was the MVP of the 1986 NCAA Final Four, a Consensus All-American, the number 1 pick in the 1989 NBA Draft and a NBA player for more than a decade. Seated a few feet from Ellison was the man himself, Mr. Camden basketball, DaJuan Wagner. Wagner was a consensus High School All-American at Camden High before averaging more 21 ppg as a “one and done” player for Memphis University. His flourishing NBA career was cut short by illness and injury.

Camden

L to R, Tyrone Pitts, Pennsylvania, Vic Carstarphen, Temple, DaJuan Wagner, Memphis

Seated next to Wagner and recording the scrimmage was Vic Carstarphen, another Camden High All-Timer who went on to man the point for some very good Temple teams under the great Temple Hall of Fame Coach John Chaney.  Carstarphen was discussing the players with Tyrone Pitts, another life-long Camden resident that played in the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania before embarking on a lengthy professional career overseas.

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LaMarr Greer (L), Florida State and Camden Superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard (R)

On the floor, barking directions was LaMarr Greer, a Middle Township HS alum and former Florida State standout. Greer’s son, Corey, is a Division 1 point guard prospect coming off a serious knee injury. Greer participated in all activities, did not wear a brace and moved fluidly while scrimmaging. When asked how he feels, Greer replied “my knee is fine… I just have to get back in basketball shape.”

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Corey Greer, Camden Senior Point Guard

Roaming the paint during the scrimmages was a slender, raw 7’0″ center named Osato Iduwe. Still developing his offensive repertoire, Iduwe is a presence on the defensive end of the court. His extensive wingspan consistently alters and blocks shots. He’s a capable defensive rebounder and he plays within himself. He will ably man the center position for Camden.

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Camden High power forward/center, Osato Iduwe (center)

Helping out on the boards will be senior SF/PF Myles Thompson. Standing 6’4″, Thompson has really leaned out over the past 6 months. As a result he is much quicker and more agile. At the same, he still has a very refined low-post offensive game. He’s got a nice package… Up and unders… Drop steps… Turn around jumpers… Jump hooks… All done at a very nice pace with excellent footwork.

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Camden High senior small forward/power forward, Myles Thompson

Then there’s Lance… Standing 6’9″ Lance Ware is a Top 50 player and it is immediately observable why… He plays like a very fluid 6’4″ wing… He grabs defensive rebounds and immediately begins pushing the ball up court… Head up, looking for teammates…

Remember… Lance is 6’9″…

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Camden sophomore small forward/power forward, Lance Ware

He deftly uses a crossover to elude a defender… Head still up… quick no look pass to teammate under the basket for a layup…

Huh? Whoaaaaa…

On one play, after pushing the ball end to end he decided to take off about 10 feet from the basket…

“What’s he doing?”

The ball was extended in his left hand and he jumped off his right foot… After floating for what seemed like 5 seconds, he punished the rim while slamming the ball straight through to the floor… An “ol’ skool” Dr. J one-handed off one leg “gusto dunk”… The gym and all the grizzled basketball veterans said the same thing….

“Dayyyyyymn!”

This could be special year for Camden High basketball… Itchy Smith, Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson, Kevin Walls, DaJaun Wagner, and now… Lance Ware!

Everyone is on board… Camden is a city trying to re-emerge after some very trying times… There are signs of progress… Cooper Hospital is expanding, Subaru has come to town, Campbell’s still calls Camden home and the Philadelphia Sixers are poised for a rebirth from their new Camden home…

They are all in… Indeed, Camden Superintendent, Paymon Rouhanifard is working as assistant coach with the freshman team. Tasked with overhauling one of the most challenging urban public school systems in the country, Rouhanifard carves out a few hours everyday to work with kids on the court. The value of his presence cannot be overstated. 

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Superintendent Rouhanifard works with a young player on free throws

Black Cager Sports asked him why he believes sports matter in urban education. Rouhanifard responded by saying, “I believe in a holistic educational experience for kids, that means developing the mind, body and spirit of kids. Sports are an integral part of that holistic experience for kids. To take it a step further, especially in Camden, I think sports change kids lives and kids are learning here the same way they learn in a classroom. The skills they gain on a basketball court, volleyball court or a football field are the skills they need to be successful in life. If you’re coachable, show that you are resilient and fight through adversity… All of those things you take with you for the rest of your life.”

Rouhanifard further added, “For me personally, sports changed my life. For some kids, yes, the classroom is where they are more likely to excel or extracurricular activities like chess. But for me personally, sports changed my life… The relationships I had with coaches helped make me the person I am today. I am grateful that I can help pay it forward here.”

“You want da High?”

“Yo Got da High!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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