Camden pays respects to Turner

First-night visitation for former Camden High boys' basketball coach Clarence Turner was at the May Funeral Home on Fourth Street in Camden. Turner's teams won 775 games, 22 South Jersey titles, and seven state titles.
First-night visitation for former Camden High boys' basketball coach Clarence Turner was at the May Funeral Home on Fourth Street in Camden. Turner's teams won 775 games, 22 South Jersey titles, and seven state titles. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff)
Posted: October 27, 2013

Greg Barr stood outside the funeral home on Fourth Street in Camden, casting an occasional glance at the folks going in and out the front door.

"I don't know if I'm ready for this," Barr said.

As so many others did, Barr came to pay his respects and say goodbye Friday night to former Camden High School basketball coach Clarence Turner, who died Sunday.

Barr, a star player for Camden who once scored 94 points in a game in 1992, said he still was "numb" over Turner's passing.

"Because of him, I want to give my best in everything I do - as a father, as a husband, at work," Barr said. "I never wanted to disappoint him."

A steady stream of visitors flowed into May Funeral Home on a cool, clear night in the heart of the city that revered Turner and his fabled basketball program.

Turner, 81, was Camden's coach from 1971-2008, save for four seasons from 1998-2002. Turner's teams won 775 games, 22 South Jersey titles, and seven state titles.

"He put us on the map," said Margaret Edwards, a teacher at Pine Poynt Middle School in Camden and a 1976 Camden High School graduate. "You can't even think about Camden and Camden High without thinking about Coach Turner."

The scene will move across town Saturday morning with another visitation followed by a funeral service at First Nazarene Baptist Church.

After the service, a motorcade will follow Turner's hearse to Camden High, where many of the coach's former players will walk beside the automobile as it turns down "Turner Way" and passes in front of the gymnasium that bears his name.

"He made me the guy I am today," said Steve Williams, 48, who played on Camden's 1982 state-championship team. "He was a father figure."

New Jersey Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson recalled the road trips that Turner's teams often took to places such as Hawaii, Puerto Rico, San Diego, and the Virgin Islands.

Camden was a national power in basketball in the 1970s and 1980s. The team drew huge crowds to games in South Jersey and often ventured across the country to participate in holiday tournaments.

"These were kids who had never been out of Camden," said Wilson, who served as a chaperone on many of those trips. "Coach showed those kids the world. He planted seeds that spread across this country and across the world with the young men that he coached."

Former University of Tennessee coach Wade Houston, who lives in Louisville, said he traveled to Camden because of his high regard for Turner.

Houston was an assistant coach at the University of Louisville and helped recruit former Camden stars Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson, and Kevin Walls. Those three athletes were members of Louisville's 1986 national championship team.

"I loved his practices," Houston said of Turner. "I remember telling Coach [Denny] Crum, 'If we can get Milt down here, he can set the tone in practice because of how hard he is used to working.' "

Houston's son, Allan, was an all-American at Tennessee and a two-time NBA all-star who wore No. 20 in tribute to Milt Wagner, who had worn that number at Louisville.

Former Camden star Wasim Muhammad, who was known as Donnie Walker when he played for the undefeated 1986 team that was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today, said his old coach "gave hope" to the city because of the success of the basketball program.

"He made people feel good about Camden," Muhammad said.

Barr, who averaged 41.4 points as a senior and played at Iona University, said Turner's teams lifted the spirits of the city.

"We were the heartbeat of the city," Barr said. "For those two hours, there was peace, and he was the glue to it all."


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@PhilAnastasia

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