Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
CHESTNUT HILL – Last year, all Camden Burns had to do was turn on a laptop to be present for school. Now it takes a bus, train and sometimes more.
Since COVID-19 forced Burns’ previous year of high school to be completely virtual, the last time Burns had to leave his house for school, he was a freshman at Martin Luther King. Now, he takes the 17 SEPTA bus to Suburban Station, where he takes a 30-45 minute train to St. Martin’s station before arriving at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
Burns, who’s repeating his sophomore year at SCH, transferred from Lankneau High School, where he had to play basketball at Martin Luther King because his school didn’t have a team. Contrast that with his current situation, where he's starring on his school team and has over 40 extracurricular options — and the adjustment has been challenging not just on the basketball court but also in the classroom.
SCH sophomore Cam Burns (above) has been a key piece for the Blue Devils. (Photo: Jerome Taylor/CoBL)
“It’s a big difference in the classroom…from having to adjust from where I was to now there’s a lot harder work…but I’m doing fine,” Burns said. “The teachers here have way higher expectations than where I previously was.”
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy head coach Julian McFadden knows how much of an adjustment coming to a six-acre private school campus can be for students, considering he’s an alum, so he’s made sure to keep tabs on Burns and other players in the classroom.
“We talk about [transitioning to SCH] often because that’s the biggest adjustment for any kid coming to SCH,” McFadden said. “It’s kind of like college during a school day for a high school kid. They’re traveling between the campuses…it’s just really different.”
“When guys come to the school I like to be really present in [the off-court] part of it because that’s really the biggest adjustment — the individuality, the responsibility that those guys are given…the classroom is the most important part.”
Another priority for McFadden is keeping his team prepared for the rigorous Inter-Ac basketball schedule, which started on Friday night for the Blue Devils with a home date against The Haverford School.
Last year COVID-19 caused the Blue Devils to only play six games (1-5). And with a team full of returners and an influx of new players like Burns and Bishop McDevitt transfers Alassane Amadou and junior Jaren Morton, the Blue Devils had high expectations coming into this year.
“Coming into the game we weren't thinking we were going to blow them out or anything but we were thinking it might not be that close of a game,” Burns said. “But we got into the game and realized they’re right here with us… they could’ve almost beat us.”
Indeed, Haverford School gave SCH Academy all it could handle, though the Blue Devils escaped with the 45-41 win.
It didn’t help that SCH was coming off an extended COVID layoff.
The whole basketball team had to quarantine after being notified of a COVID-19 exposure on December 28 during a holiday tournament in Allentown. That rust showed early Friday night, as the Blue Devils (9-3 overall, 1-0 Inter-Ac) struggled to make shots and found themselves down 32-27 heading into the fourth quarter against the Haverford School.
“It definitely took time [to get readjusted to game speed], I felt [the rust], I know a couple of the other guys felt it,” senior Darius Isaac said.
But it wasn't just the rust that threw the Blue Devils off. Senior twins Dave and Matt Kearney scored 19 and 10 points respectively to carry Haverford on the offensive end.
And on defense, the ‘Fords implemented a 3-2 matchup zone that the 6-9 junior Amadou described as “weird,” and it threw the Devils off for sure.
“The defense they run is kind of weird. They made us shoot a lot of threes,” Amadou said.
“It’s a zone with man-to-man principles…it’s essentially there to make you shoot threes,” McFadden said. “They pack it all the way in, and they want to see if you can shoot them out of [their defense].”
In the fourth quarter, though, one of those threes fell.
After Amadou missed two free throws, senior Ivan Thorpe grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it to Burns, who drilled it to give the Devils a 42-38 lead with 2:28 remaining.
From that point on, the Devils made it a point to get Burns the ball in anticipation of the Fords (3-8 overall, 1-1 Inter-Ac) fouling late in the game. Burns delivered, going 3-4 from the line and finishing with 10 points.
“We got into a situation where we had to take a shot, I shot it and I hit it,” Burns said. “Coming in they told me that I’ve got to take big shots, and right now I feel like I'm doing really good with that.”
“He’s one of our shooters so he’s going to keep shooting the ball,” senior guard Darius Isaac said. “Everybody, ‘1’ through ‘12’ trusts Cam to knock down shots, and he trusts himself to make those shots.”
So far the 6-0 guard is shooting 81% from the charity stripe and averaging 12.5 points per game in his first year with the Devils.
“A lot of people don’t know him just yet but Cam Burns is a really good player,” McFadden said. “Great shooter, probably one of the better shooters in the tri-state…he’s a scorer, he’s a guy that we trust late in games to make the right decision.”
But now that the Inter-Ac schedule has started Burns can see what Isaac was telling him prior to conference play: There are no easy games in the Inter-Ac.
With players like Haverford School’s Jameel Brown (Westtown), Germantown Academy’s Jordan Longino (Villanova), and Malvern Prep’s Rahdir Hicks (Towson) all leaving the conference, the Inter-Ac is wide open.
“We’ve been talking to them about how tough the Inter-Ac is, no team is going to lay down for you, everyone can win in this league,” Isaac said. “I feel like they realize now we may look better or worse on paper, but everybody in the Inter-Ac can win any game at any moment.”
With their win on Friday night, the Blue Devils join Malvern Prep (2-0) as the only undefeated teams in the league. And even though the win wasn’t as clean as they might’ve liked, a win is always a good start to conference play.
“It was good for my kids to see that kind of adversity and pull it out,” McFadden said. “The league is so tough; these guys can really coach, their players can really play and they’re going to play hard with pride for their schools. That’s just the way the Inter-Ac is, it’s very Ivy League in that manner.”
SCH has a quick turnaround when they face Germantown Academy on Saturday in a make-up game at 1 PM as the Blue Devils continue their journey of trying to claim their first league title since 2010.
“I think we’ve got a shot, we need to do the things that we do well every night,” McFadden said. “In the Inter-Ac, no matter who the team is they’re going to be really tough. You can’t look past anybody in this league… but if SCH basketball is playing SCH basketball, then we got a shot every single night.”
Springside Chestnut Hill: 10 | 10 | 7 | 18 || 45
The Haverford School: 5 | 15 | 12 | 9 || 41
Springside Chestnut Hill: Burns 10, Morton 10, Amadou 9, Thorpe 7, Isaac 4, Kull 3, Brown 2
The Haverford School: D. Kearney 17, M. Kearney 10, Springman 4, Mastin 4, Rayer 4, Boyd 2