Camden Courier-Post - December 19, 2003
Clarence Turner Delivers for a City That Needs A Winning Team,
an Uncompromising Competitor
By Kevin Roberts
Shomari Moore was living in Memphis, Tenn., when he heard that Clarence Turner was back as the basketball coach at Camden High School.
So Moore came home to play basketball.
"When I heard Coach Turner was coming back, I knew I definitely had to get back," said Moore, a star senior guard on this year's team. "I knew they'd be doing this right. I knew what Camden basketball was going to be, again.
it was time for me to come back to Camden, the city when~ I
was born and raised, and tie part of something special."
There are those who believe South Jersey basketball is better when Camden is good and Turner is in his environs, raging on the sideline. Those people should cinch up the seat belt and hold on for a wild ride.
Because Camden is loaded. And Turner is back. Camden will open the season, which begins this weekend for most teams in South Jersey, among the region's finest. The Panthers are, as Moore and many others know, different with Turner on the bench.
Turner is the all-time winningest coach in South Jersey, set to rack up his 700th career win early this season, and he provides an aura to Camden basketball that is hard to define.
it's there, and it's not going
anywhere, not anymore.
gives the city a sense of pride," said
the Rev. J.A.
a community activist and pastor at First Nazarene Baptist Church in
Camden. "He's a symbol."
may have been a time when Turner, who won't reveal his age but is easily
past 70, could see the finish line. One of the things that bothered him
most about a four-year suspension from 1999-2002 was that he confronted
the nagging feeling he'd never get this job back, and that meant he
couldn't have gone out on his own terms.
at him now, with former Camden greats Kevin Walls and Greg Barr on the
sideline as assistants, and you might draw the conclusion that Turner is
setting this thing up to go out on his own terms. He seems set to get
Camden back to its familiar place atop the state and finally ride off into
the sunset after a career that can claim seven state titles, 19 South
Jersey championships and 24 conference championships - and courted
controversy at every turn .
Turner laughed at this notion last week and said he has no plans to leave "'The High" in the near or distant future. He'll coach there until they drag him from the gym, kicking and screaming.
What keeps him going? "Still pissed off," Turner said. with a smile. "I love the game. And I love working with the kids, because I really believe playing basketball and being here helps the kids be productive. I love coaching.
"But that's the best answer I could give you: Still pissed off."
It's not just that Turner wins, although he wins a ton.
Turner's record as coach at Camden is an astonishing 695-112. But when Turner was pushed from the bench after the 1998 season, Glen Jackson took over the basketball program and won. The Panthers won a state title in 2000 with Dajuan Wagner, and won the Tournament of Champions for the only time in the school's history.
Jackson was a class act as coach; a decent and dignified gentleman. Still, there's just no denying that even as they celebrated the state title, a lot of people wanted Turner back at the helm.
"Oh, that's accurate; yes," Jackson said. "He's a foundation in that city. The first time I met him, I was in the second grade. And he brought the Camden High basketball team into our classroom and spoke to us. And from that moment on, from the second grade, I wanted to be part of Camden High basketball."
Camden is still intensely important to Jackson, now an assistant principal at Winslow Township. While he was coach, Turner was a little less than gracious about Jackson; still Jackson has nothing but kind things to say about Turner, in particular, and Camden in general.
"He always knows the right buttons to push to mottivate people," Jackson said.
things he's said have been viewed as controversial. Well, that happens.
That happens for all of us."
it happens more for Turner, and that may be why he's such a touchstone figure
for people in Camden.
Clarence Turner brings to the table is this sense of us vs. them,'''
Jones, the reverend, said. "We're both from the preCivil Rights
era. You have to understand that he brings his hurts from that time, he
brings his frustrations.
is the secondpoorest city in America. This basketball team gives the
city a sense of pride, that out of all this despair we've produced
basketball players who've excelled, who've gone on to college and
look at him as man who is willing, and who is able, to take the system on.
He's one of our symbols."
men are easy to admire, the saying goes, and Turner is an uncompromising
man. His battles with the NJSIAA, or referees, or administrators, or just
about anybody he views as an adversary, are legion.
critics will say that he fights them reflexively, sometimes when there's
no reason. He's quick to see adversaries just about everywhere, and surely
he's made more than a few enemies along the way.
acknowledges that some battles he's lost have come at a cost to his kids.
"That's the thing that really hurts me; when I believe they've gone after me and the kids are the ones who pay the price," Turner said. "The powers that be in this state are supposed to be for the kids. They're not supposed to be out for me."
there is an area where Turner might have mellowed with age and time away,
it's that in a lengthy interview last week at Camden High, he's offered a
dozen chances to rail about his suspension or pick a fight with any number
of adversaries on any number of topics.
gently deflected every question, saying, "I don't want to get into
any trouble. I'm tired of all that."
then he smiled, and a steely and determined look flashed across his face
and Turner said: "But if anybody wants to fight, I'm ready.
I'm not backing down from anything. Ever."
Turner grew up in North Carolina, and he was drafted into the Army in
1954. He came to Camden in large part because his late brother, Edward,
had settled there. Turner was hired as a teacher at Camden in 1961, and in
1970 - at the peak of a tumultuous civil rights movement at Camden and
across the country - Turner became the head basketball coach .
the rest is history. Asked what he learned along the way that influences
the way he coaches today, Turner tells a story about a baseball game
played years ago:
pitched, and we won," Turner said. "But the coach wasn't pleased
with our effort. He gave it to us. You watch to see how some people
respond to that, and (Hank) Aaron responded with a double, a triple and a
home run in the next game. You knew he wasn't going to be there long; the
Boston Braves grabbed him about a month later."
The lesson: Effort is everything; never quit, play to the maximum at all times. The great ones will rise to that idea.
in the middle
There's no way to really understand a life lived over 70 years in the times Turner has lived. All you get are snippets, stories, incidents, tied together to give you a quick sketch of the man. Some is real, some is facade, some is caricature.
The real man, as always, is somewhere in the middle. That's the man who takes a good number of young boys each year and makes one of the most powerful basket· ball teams in the state..
"It's not just basketball, it's life you're working with," Turner said. "You mistake life for basketball, you've got a problem.
You're a mentor, and a father to them while they're here. I take that role on."
Camden's players will go to Puerto Rico this year to play. The team regularly makes trips to all kinds of places. These things cost money, and money is not easily raised in Camden.
But the Panthers will raise it, always do. Turner sees to it, and a community that prizes basketball so highly makes it happen.
"Clarence Turner understands the projects," said Jones, whose church helped provide blazers and slacks for the players for these trips. "He understands the plight these kids come out of. And he gives them hope."
Turner believes these experiences are important to the kids. He believes there is great worth in being a basketball player at Camden.
"That's why I ask a lot of my kids," Turner said. "If I see you in the hallway, that's your ass. Kids who perform on my teams, who perform in sports, they're supposed to be leaders, not followers. I want leaders. If you're a follower, I can't use you."
Playing for a legend
In Camden, players grow up hearing about basketball and "The High." In some places kids grow up dreaming about the NBA. In Camden, they grow up thinking about playing for Clarence Turner at "The High."
So when they get there, they want to play well.
"You hear the stories in middle school," senior Dwight Cass said. "He's a legend. When you're playing for a legend, you have to do good for him."
"He's a legend in his own time," Moore said. "He's done so much not just for Camden basketball, but for the city of Camden.
"He brings the best out of you every day at practice. You hear a lot of stories about all the great teams he's had. You want to be one of those teams he talks about, someday."
Turner will win his 700th game early this season. He said the number means little to him.
"Not really," Turner said. "It's another game. You want to have a winning season, a good season. To attain that, you can't worry about numbers like that."
Besides, Turner can't get past the idea that four years were stolen from him. If not for a suspension from the NJSIAA after the 1998 season for two incidents - at the end of Camden's game with Long Branch that escalated into violence and at Bishop Eustace earlier in the season - Turner reasons he'd be bearing down on 800.
"I should have had a lot more wins and a couple more state titles," Turner said.
Turner said there were times during those four years away that he came to grips with the idea that he'd never get back. But it's also true that when Turner was nominated for the South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame two years ago, his first reaction was: "But I'm not retired!"
He was right, eventually.
Now Turner is back on the bench at Camden, the only place he ever wanted to be and the place where he fits best.
basketball is very important to the city," Turner said. "They
come out to watch us play, and there's pressure on the coach and the team
to do well.
Clarence Turner voices his opinion
Philadelphia Inquirer * January 20, 2004
More mellow, Turner nears his 700th win
By Sam Carchidi
Back when he lived at home, Eric Turner said his father rarely changed his demeanor when he returned from coaching one of his Camden High boys' basketball games.
Win or lose, he said, his dad - Clarence Turner, the winningest coach in South Jersey boys' basketball history - was his stoic self.
"I'm the one who had to bug him" for details of the game, Eric Turner said in the Camden locker room Saturday after his dad's team whipped Woodrow Wilson to give Turner his 699th career victory.
Even on the rare occasions when Camden lost, Turner didn't bring the anguish home with him. "He never showed it," the younger Turner said. "He just moved on to the next game."
Eric Turner, 30, a former Highland wrestler who is now a juvenile detention officer, paused for a few seconds.
"The only time I ever saw him change his mood was when he was suspended for four years. That hurt because he coached [Dajuan] Wagner as a freshman... and he wanted to coach him for all four years."
Actually, Turner was suspended for one year by the NJSIAA for two incidents in 1998-99 - one in which he pulled his team off the court before a game was over, the other in which some players joined a fight in the stands during a playoff game. After Turner's suspension ended, Camden did not hire him during each of the next three years, even though he had applied for the job.
Turner's four-year hiatus is behind him. This is his second year since he returned to the coaching ranks last season.
The coaching layoff seems to have mellowed Turner.
Oh, he still gets feisty - and angry - when he talks about his four years away from the game. But he appears to take things more in stride and seems less vocal on the sideline.
I expected the 70-something Turner to be furious that Camden's high-school gym floor - which was ruined by a leaky heater in November 2002 - couldn't be used for 13 months until Saturday's game against Wilson. Instead, he calmly said, "It was disappointing, but there was nothing you could do about it."
Turner will be aiming for his 700th career win this afternoon when the Panthers play host to Paul VI. His first win was in 1970.
"I don't remember who it was against," he said, "but I know we had a good team."
Back in the 1950s, long before he became Camden's coach, Turner had aspirations of becoming a major-league pitcher. He was a pitcher in the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago White Sox farm systems; he later played on the Jackie Robinson All-Stars, a team that barnstormed from Baltimore to Mexico and played 45 games in 30 days.
Robinson, Gil Hodges, Maury Wills and Ralph Branca were among the players on the team.
Those players left lasting marks on major-league baseball.
Turner has left his mark on the South Jersey hardwoods. He became a Camden basketball assistant in 1968. Two years later, he replaced the highly successful Tony Alfano as the Panthers' head coach.
In his 29-plus years as head coach, Camden has won seven state championships, 19 sectional titles, and 24 conference crowns while compiling a 699-113 record.
Turner has had his detractors - critics cite his run-it-up tactics and battles with officials and the NJSIAA - but no one argues about the man's ability to evaluate talent and to put his players in the type of situation in which they excel.
"He's very disciplined and a teacher of the game," said Camden senior guard Wayne Smalls Jr., whose father was the leading scorer on Turner's first team. "Every day you learn something new, especially on defense."
Ah, defense. Over the years, Turner's teams have frustrated most opponents with their full-court, trapping pressure. It has become their trademark, their calling card.
"I like to run and press and take it to teams," Turner said, "but every year we change the style, depending on the type of team we have. I try not to make them do what I like, but what they do [best]."
What this year's team has done best is kick-start its offense with its relentless defense. Witness Saturday's 71-54 win over arch-rival Woodrow Wilson, a game in which Camden forced 29 turnovers, several of which led to fastbreak baskets.
"This team can move," said Turner, whose squad is off to a 4-1 start. "I like that about them."
This team, led by guards Shomari Moore and Smalls, forwards David Foster and Kevin Payton and super-sub Terron Murray, hopes to give Turner his eighth state title. The Panthers won a 2000 state title - and the Tournament of Champions crown - when Glen Jackson coached the team during Turner's four-year absence.
"I only watched a chosen few of those games," Turner said of his four years away from the sideline. "I'm not a watcher. When I was a baseball player, I loved playing, but I didn't like to watch... . The same thing with coaching. I'm not a spectator."
He is a doer, a man of strong convictions, a person whose presence - though a bit more mellow these days - is extremely powerful.
"He's a legend," said Moore, Camden's high-scoring senior, "and I trust everything he says."
After 699 wins - and counting - why not?
Camden High School boys' basketball coach Clarence Turner is congratulated by Dr. Roy Dawson, the former superintendent of Camden schools, after Turner won his 700th game in 2004.
Camden Courier-Post * February 29, 2004
Camden slams Winslow Twp. in Tourney Tuneup
By PHIL ANASTASIA
There were 37 seconds remaining in the game, and in the regular season, when Shomari Moore and Dwight Cass decided something special was in order.
"An exclamation point," Cass called it.
It was that and more. It was the last of six dunks thrown down by the Camden High School boys' basketball team Saturday afternoon, and the only one that began as a pass that ricocheted off the backboard.
It also was an official announcement: The Panthers are open for business.
"Everybody is peaking at the right time," said Cass, a 6-foot-7 senior who scored 24 points as Camden rung up an imposing 102-76 victory over Winslow Township in a battle of the No. 1 and No. 3 teams in the Courier-Post Top 20. "We've got a lot of high hopes. Everybody is focused on what we have to do."
After a nerve-jangling week in which the Panthers faced the possibility they would be disqualified from postseason play, then learned they would be the No. 9 seed in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament - thanks to four forfeit losses as the result an NJSIAA ruling - coach Clarence Turner's team was in full roar against the Eagles.
Full-court pressure defense. Relentless offensive rebounding. Plenty of scoring power, as Cass, Moore (27), Kevin Payton (15) and David Foster (15) hit double figures and Wayne Smalls added nine, including a 3-point jumper at the buzzer that broke the century mark and brought a huge cheer from the large contingent of Camden fans.
Those are the hallmarks of a Camden team that's ready to make some serious noise in the tournament, and those were the things that were on ample display inside the Panthers' refurbished gymnasium on a warm, spring-like afternoon.
"We just didn't match their intensity," said Winslow Township senior Cedric Smith, who scored 26 points and made several impressive plays. "You can't come in here and play dull. They played so tough, boxing out, getting loose balls, playing hard defense."
Camden is the best 13-7 team and the best No. 9 seed in the state. Still, after Troubling Tuesday - which featured the state ruling and a loss to cross-city rival Woodrow Wilson - Turner wanted to see something familiar in the regular-season finale.
"When we got the news (that four early games were forfeits in an eligibility issue), they were a little deflated," Turner said. "They went in a little bit of a shell. It's a thinking game, and they weren't thinking the way they should.
"This was a good game. It helps us. It gives us an upbeat feeling going forward."
Both teams could benefit from this Olympic Conference inter-division clash of two of the most talented teams in South Jersey. Camden got the bounce back in its step. Winslow got the chance to see what it takes to beat an intense opponent in hostile territory.
"It's a lesson," said Smith, whose team will be the No. 2 seed in the upcoming South Jersey Group 4 tournament.
Winslow broke to leads of 9-1 and 13-6. But Camden surged back behind Cass and Foster, a 6-foot-2 senior who does a little bit of everything for the Panthers.
"That's my job - do whatever it takes," Foster said. "This was a big game for us as far as the playoffs. This will get us ready."
Camden's lead was just 64-59 entering the fourth quarter. But Moore, a 5-foot-9 senior who scored 15 of his points in the final eight minutes, and the rest of the Panthers hit another gear, and the Eagles couldn't keep pace.
There was less than a minute to play when Moore saw Cass on his left side during a three-on-one fast break. Moore lofted a pass that kissed off the backboard and Cass rose up, grabbed the ricochet and threw down his third dunk of the day.
And his best.
"We're ready," Cass said, writing the headline on his dunk and to the playoff preview story.
Camden Courier-Post * March 11, 2006
Out As Camden Coach
By PHIL ANASTASIA
dizzying day ended Friday with Clarence Turner in the lobby of the
Courier-Post building, insisting he has not retired as the Camden High
School boys' basketball coach.
Camden High School Principal Al Davis said Turner had retired, and the
Camden Board of Education office issued a news release announcing that
Turner had "tendered his retirement papers as coach of the
school's announcement followed by days an incident in which a Camden
player punched an opponent after a playoff game that Camden lost.
the confusing situation is likely to lead to one conclusion: Turner has
coached his last game at Camden after 32 memorable seasons.
it to the bank," Davis said. "The truth comes from me. This is
can't go along with that," Turner said, looking at the news release
from the BOE office that said that his retirement was planned a year ago
to coincide with the conclusion of the 2005-2006 season.
if he wanted to continue as coach, Turner said, "I would. I'd like
to do it one more year."
retirement issue likely is moot. Because Turner, like all Camden
coaches, is hired on a one-year basis, he won't be the coach again
unless he is recommended to the Board of Education by Davis and Camden
athletic director Mark Pease.
declined to comment Friday, but Turner said Pease told him in a
conversation this week that "the only negative at Camden is the
was adamant that Turner has coached his final game for the Panthers.
Turner has retired as the basketball coach," Davis said. "I
don't talk to the newspapers but I'm saying this. This is what is going
said he felt he was being unfairly blamed for the incident after
Camden's loss to Deptford in Tuesday's South Jersey Group 3 championship
senior MacArthur Mason, 18, was arrested after punching Deptford player
Rickie Crews in the face in the handshake line.
didn't have anything to do with what happened," Turner said.
"I can't take the heat for something that shouldn't be the
responsibility of just the basketball coach."
said Turner's retirement was planned a year ago and was unrelated to
unfortunate that this incident happened but this was planned a year
ago," Davis said.
said he spoke with Davis about retiring after this season when Camden
officials named the gymnasium at the high school after him in the spring
I changed my mind," Turner said. "I told him (Davis) that and
he said, "OK.' "
who is in his mid-70s, became Camden's coach in 1971. He has coached the
Panthers for 32 seasons, missing four seasons from 1999-2002 after
Camden was suspended from the 1999 state tournament for incidents during
the 1998 season.
Panthers also were banned from tournament play in 1972 and 1992 and
could face another sanction for Tuesday's incident.
is South Jersey's all-time leader in career coaching victories. His
record is 729-134. His teams won 21 sectional titles and seven state
the 10 seasons between 1978 and 1987, Turner's teams won five state
titles. His 1981, 1984 and 1986 teams had a combined record of 88-1 and
each was ranked among the top teams in the nation.
"I admire coach for everything he as done for Camden High basketball and this community," Davis said. "He was not only a coach, he was mentor and a role model. We salute him."
Camden Couroer-Post * February 8, 2013
Callahan: For some, Clarence still No. 1
By KEVIN CALLAHAN
It was 25 years ago last month when the following two paragraphs about the former Camden High School boys’ basketball coach appeared in a newspaper :
“Clarence Turner may be the only high school coach in America who can put his team on a plane, pop out to the Coast, play a couple of games, then hustle to the Forum to watch two of his former players, Milt Wagner and Billy Thompson, sit together on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench.
“Turner may be the only high school basketball coach to have two other former players - tight end Derrick Ramsey, who used to play for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, and Kansas City Chief defensive end Art Still - knock the bejeebers out of each other in the NFL.”
These glowing words about Turner appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Yes, the L.A. Times. You see, Turner wasn’t just known in South Jersey. He also was known in Southern California.
Actually, Turner was known around the entire country.
This is how big Turner was back in his day.
Today, Paul Rodio of St. Augustine Prep could break Turner’s long-standing South Jersey record of 775 wins, amazingly in a game against Camden.
Truly, though, it is really impossible to believe any basketball program from this area will stretch nationally and reach the heights of Camden under Turner.
“Camden basketball had good players in the sixties, but when Coach Turner got there, he took us national,” said Vic Carstarphen, a star guard for Turner in the late 1980s who went on to start for Temple University. “Coach put us in a position where we became national.
“He built a program nationally where you could go anywhere and people would say, ‘Camden, you guys played some basketball there,’ and not have seen us ever. They just go by what they heard.”
Turner, who lives in Chicago, replaced the legendary Tony Alfano (1945-1970), the coach of the great Itchy Smith and Sunny Sunkett of 1960s Camden lore. Clarence, as he was simply known to so many of us, coached the Panthers from 1971 to 1998 and from 2003 to 2008 to almost unimaginable success and storylines. He won a South Jersey record seven state titles and a staggering 21 sectional championships.
“He was a fierce competitor, I was a fierce competitor too, but once I got around him, I took on some of his traits of hating to lose and playing as hard as you can for a full 32 minutes,” said Billy Culbertson, a guard in the late 1970s who went onto start for Pittsburgh. “He used to work us so hard in practice the games were fun.
“And what it taught us when we got to college is we were already used to working hard. He put that in us.”
After Culbertson graduated in 1979 with a state title, Turner put Camden on the national map.
The 1981 Panthers featured Billy Thompson, Milt Wagner and Kevin Walls, making it perhaps Turner’s most talented team. In his senior year in 1981, Wagner averaged 33 points a game, including a 52-point outburst against nationally ranked DeMatha (Md.) High. The Panthers averaged 104 points a game and were 27-0 before being upset in the state semifinals by Neptune, 85-65.
The next year, Thompson was named the National Player of the Year as a senior, collecting 29 points and 15 rebounds per game in leading Camden to a state title.
The 1984 team with Walls, who led the nation in scoring at 44 points a game, finished 31-0 with another state crown.
“When I do get a chance to travel, and we are talking basketball, that is the first thing that comes up,” Walls, who still lives in Camden, said about playing for Turner. “People say, ‘do you know Camden High basketball?’ and ‘what about coach Turner?’ They are the first questions people ask.”
And, then there was the 1986 Panthers, who were named the No. 1 team in the country by USA Today, led by Louis Banks, a 6-foot-7 forward who averaged 35 points a game during his 30-0 senior season.
“He knew how to put great players with good players,” said Banks, who went on to star for Cincinnati, “and I think he knew how basketball should be played in New Jersey, put the press on teams that were inferior of our teams and the teams that came before us.”
The same year “The High” won the high school national championship, the “Camden Connection” of Wagner, Thompson and Walls played for Louisville’s 1986 NCAA national championship team.
Then, there was Dajuan Wagner, the son of Milt, who Turner coached as a freshman before being replaced as coach for the next four seasons by former player Glen Jackson. Wagner, who became the New Jersey high school all-time leading scorer, once scored 100 points in a game, and was sixth overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002.
Just think, if Turner coached Juanny for three more years? He’d likely have 100 more wins.
But Turner’s legacy was much more than the numbing numbers.
Attending a game at “The High” back in Turner’s day was an event. There was the “whoooooosh” by the Camden fans after a long jumper during those late afternoon games at the “Castle on the Hill.” There was the rhythmic foot stomping and hand clapping thundering throughout the packed gym when the Panthers’ press provided a game-ending run of points.
There was the fabled chant of “You want The High, you got The High!” after Camden deposed of another team thinking they could actually beat one of Turner’s teams.
There was also the controversy, too. Turner was suspended by the NJSIAA. He was accused by other coaches for “running up the score.” He had his spats with members of the media.
“He was a little indifferent in terms of his personality, but as far as him coaching, I think he was overlooked in a lot of ways just because of his aggressiveness and his overall demeanor,” Walls said.
To his players, Turner was revered. Like Denny Brown said, “growing up in Camden, you wanted to play for him, you wanted to play for Camden High.”
Brown’s father, Gary, and uncle, Rick, were both star guards at Woodrow Wilson.
“I grew up a block away from the school, everything was pointing for me to go to Wilson,” said Brown, who started as a sophomore on the No. 1, nationally ranked 1986 team, “but despite all that, the Wilson legacy, the Wilson bloodline in me, I wanted to play for Camden High simply because if you were a basketball player in Camden, you wanted to play for Clarence Turner.”
Back in 1986, the city of Camden even threw a celebratory parade for Turner and his No. 1 team.
The “Camden Connection” of Wagner, Thompson and Walls also returned for the April parade snaking along a two-mile route from The High to an awards ceremony at Wiggins Waterfront Park. Riding, too, in a silver Mustang convertible was Milt Wagner’s 3-year-old, Dajuan, who dreamed like every kid in Camden of one day playing for Coach Turner.
“Playing for him was bigger than life itself, growing up as a kid, all you heard was Coach Turner,” Carstarphen said. “His name was synonymous with Camden basketball, so when I got there, it was like the professional level, he was that big.”
Indeed, Turner was so big back in his day, parades were thrown for his team. He was so big back then national newspapers wrote about him. His team was once No. 1 in the nation.
Soon, he will be No. 2 in South Jersey.
But not in the hearts of his players.
“I felt great to just be part of that legendary program,” Walls said, “and, I still feel that way.”
Philadelphia Inquirer - October 21, 2013
Former Camden High coach Clarence Turner dies at 81
By PHIL ANASTASIA
Milt Wagner said Clarence Turner's reputation spread across the country in the same way the old coach's teams covered the basketball court with pressure defense.
Wagner said people on the West Coast, down South, and in big cities such as New York and Chicago knew of Mr. Turner and his fabled program at Camden High School.
"All over the country, people still ask me about Coach Turner," said Wagner, a former star basketball player at Camden who is now an assistant coach at Auburn University. "They all know about Camden High School and Clarence Turner."
Mr. Turner, the colorful, charismatic coach during the greatest era in Camden basketball history, died on Sunday.
Mr. Turner, 81, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease, according to his son, Eric.
Mr. Turner was living in Chicago with his wife, Sharon, who has family in the area. Mr. Turner's body will be flown back to Camden this week for the funeral, although details still were pending as of Sunday night, according to his daughter, Lisa, his other surviving child.
We lost a legend," former Camden star Arthur Barclay said.
Said former Camden coach Cetsh Byrd, a Camden graduate who led the program from 2010 through last season: "He was the heartbeat of the city."
Mr. Turner won 775 games and seven state titles in a career that ran from 1971 through 2008, save for four seasons from 1999-2002 when he was out of coaching.
Under Mr. Turner, Camden became a national power in the sport, setting a standard in South Jersey for big-game excitement and tournament success.
"When I was a kid, I wanted to play for Coach Turner more than I wanted to play for [legendary NBA coach] Phil Jackson," said Dajuan Wagner, Milt Wagner's son and the athlete who is generally regarded as the best player in Camden history. "I couldn't wait to play for him. He was such a motivator. We would run through a brick wall for him."
In addition to Milt and Dajuan Wagner, who was the sixth pick in the 2002 NBA draft, Mr. Turner coached some of the best players in state history, including future NFL stars such as Derrick Ramsey and Art Still - who were powerful interior players for Mr. Turner's first state championship team in 1974 - as well as Billy Culbertson, Kevin Walls, Louis Banks and Vic Carstarphen, among many others.
Under Mr. Turner, Camden won state titles in 1974, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987. His 1986 team was 30-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.
"There wasn't a finer program than Camden High basketball," said current Camden coach John Valore, who spent 35 years as the coach at Cherry Hill East. "When you played Camden and you saw those crowds,it made you feel good about high school basketball."
In the 1970s and 1980s, Mr. Turner's teams dominated South Jersey basketball, drawing huge crowds to games that often felt like professional sporting events because of the caliber of play and excitement level in the gymnasiums.
Mr. Turner's teams were renowned for their mental toughness and clutch performances, especially in big games. His teams attracted a wide following, from within Camden and across South Jersey.
"His teams set the standard in our state in the 1970s and '80s," legendary St. Anthony of Jersey City coach Bob Hurley said. "We were bitter rivals. Bitter rivals. But by the time he retired, we had a respectful friendship. He was an outstanding coach."
Mr. Turner clashed at times with some opposing coaches and administrators and sometimes was highly critical of referees.
He battled for years with officials from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which suspended his team from participating in the 1991 tournament and suspended him from coaching for the 1999 and 2000 seasons - both times as a result of violence that occurred at Camden tournament games.
"He was a lightning rod," said Carstarphen, who played on the 1986 and 1987 state championship teams and later starred for Temple. "But coach didn't care. He protected us as players. He took the bullets for us.
"He filled us with so much confidence. He made us believe we were the best."
Camden Courier-Post * October 21, 2013
Former Camden basketball coach Clarence Turner dies at 81
By KEVIN MINNICK
The winningest coach in South Jersey high school boys’ basketball at the time of his retirement, Camden legend Clarence Turner died early Sunday.
Turner, 81, was living in Chicago. He had been battling Alzheimer’s disease for some time, although the official cause of death has not been released.
“I woke up to a couple of text messages,” said former standout Arthur Barclay, who went on to play at the University of Memphis. “My heart instantly dropped.
“We lost a legend. It’s a sad day for Camden High School basketball and for the city of Camden. Ask anybody he touched and they’ll have nothing but good things to say about him. He was a warrior, a great motivator. He was someone you’d run through a brick wall for.”
"R.I.P. Coach Turner. I’ll never forget you ...,” former player Denny Brown posted on Facebook.
Funeral arrangements are pending but it’s expected that Turner’s body will be flown back to Camden, with a viewing and funeral preliminarily scheduled for late in the week, according to former player Vic Carstarphen.
Turner is survived by his wife, Sharon; a son, Eric; and a daughter, Lisa.
“He was an inspiration to many and a positive role model to all the young athletes who (were) privileged to play for him,” Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd said in a release.
“Although Coach Turner had a stellar career at the High ... what he did to bring prominence and pride to our youth and our city truly is unrivaled. ... May his family take comfort in knowing that he is in peace with our Lord and that they have the love and support from their extended family, the City of Camden.”
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Coach Turner’s passing (Sunday) morning,” said retired Camden High School principal and former Camden County Freeholder Riletta T. Cream.
“Coach Turner was a true class act and a principal’s joy because he brought out the best in our young athletes and allowed them to shine on the national stage,” she said. “Coach Turner was able to win because of his leadership and passion to the game and his players.
“The success of his teams allowed many of our young athletes to travel on planes for the first time so they could visit colleges. It was a blessing to have him coach the Castle on the Hill and he will be missed by many.”
Turner took over the Camden program in 1971, posting a 775-146 career record over two different stints with the Panthers. He did not coach between 1999 and 2002, and stepped down in 2008.
“You consider him right up there as one of the better coaches in the state of New Jersey. He and Bob Hurley (of St. Anthony in Jersey City) would be the two finest coaches I’ve ever coached against,” said current Camden coach John Valore, who had plenty of battles with Turner during Valore’s long tenure at Cherry Hill East.
“We wanted to play against the best in South Jersey and Clarence Turner being the best, and his teams being the best, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”
While Turner was loved by many, others didn’t agree with his intense coaching style. Still, he elevated an already dominant program into national prominence.
“Coach was definitely a lightning rod,” said Carstarphen, who went on to play at Temple University. “But what people may not know is that he constantly stood up for the kids, for the school and the community. We saw it every day.
“Growing up where we came from, and being around a man like that day in and day out, we learned to be proud. We learned how to stick our chests out and not be afraid to say where we came from,” Carstarphen said. “He spoke his mind, but he showed me how to win. He was a guy who gave us confidence and made us feel like we could beat the world.”
Turner’s teams won seven state titles — 1974, 1978, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1986 and 1987 — and 22 sectional championships. The 1986 team went 30-0 and was crowned No. 1 in the country by USA Today.
“He was a great motivator and raised the bar high,” Carstarphen added. “He never set goals that were low. No matter how good you were as a player or how good we were as a team, he raised the bar.
“The name Camden resonates with people throughout the country. They know Clarence Turner built a powerhouse program and that legacy will live forever.”
“He didn’t win 700-plus games by accident,” Barclay said.
In South Jersey history, Turner is second only to Paul Rodio of St. Augustine Prep in Richland in career wins.
“He did a good job for his school; for what needed to be done at Camden,” said Rodio, who passed Turner late last season. “He got them to play. You have to look at him as tremendously successful. He always treated me like a professional, and I always looked at him as a gentleman.”
“He was the best in South Jersey. When we played them, if we stayed close we would be feeling good about ourselves,” Valore said. “From the time he took over the program until he retired, it was tough. Any time you played Camden High, you competed against the best.
“Playing Camden was the highlight of our season. There were a lot of other good teams in South Jersey, but that was the one team that stood out. You wanted to be competitive against Camden.”
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