The Atlantic City boys and Cedar Creek girls high school basketball teams probably will never forget last March.
They will remember watching the final seconds tick off the clock in their state championship games.
They will remember mobbing each other in celebration.
They will remember their big smiles as they posed for pictures with the state championship trophy.
The two were among 12 New Jersey high school basketball teams to win state titles last season.
Atlantic City won the Group IV title, while Cedar Creek claimed the Group I crown.
"It made us happy beyond belief," Cedar Creek standout Kristine Miller said. "I don't want to say we turned into hometown celebrities, but everybody knew. I was getting a lot more people talking to me in the grocery store."
And now as the 2012-13 season begins Friday, both teams face a similar question.
Can they do it again?
Both teams return several standouts. Once a team wins, it wants to recapture the excitement of winning state tournament games and the thrill of playing before packed gyms.
"We're starving for it," Miller said. "That's what we live for."
There is no better time for a basketball team to win than in March. State championships change a program forever.
Cedar Creek's state championship was unique. Pirates coach Francine Raph became the first female to coach a Cape-Atlantic League basketball team to a state title.
Cedar Creek won without any seniors. The Egg Harbor City school opened in 2010 and had no senior class in 2011-12.
"It puts a positive spin on the whole program," Raph said of the title. "We didn't know what we could do (before last season). But now we know if we put our minds to it, anything is possible."
Schools commemorate state titles by hanging banners in their gym.
The one in Cedar Creek's gym lists the names of every player on last season's team. Banners are a tangible sign to future players that their school can produce teams capable of being among New Jersey's best.
"You go into our gym and the first thing you see smack dab right in the middle of the gym is (a banner) with all the names that were part of history," Miller said. "That's our favorite part. That (banner) is going to be there forever. It shows how hard we work."
A state title brings other perks. Players sometimes get jackets with the word "state champions" on them.
Some teams even get championship rings.
"I'm going to sport that jacket around until it doesn't fit me anymore," Miller said.
Coaches get plenty of calls after winning state championships from organizers of showcase events around the state.
They all want a state champion to play in their event.
Atlantic City will meet national power St. Anthony of Jersey City in the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory on Jan. 19.
The Vikings also are scheduled to play Union Catholic in the Primetime Shootout on Feb. 9 at Roselle Catholic.
"It's a feather in our program's cap to get the opportunity to play in some of the better (events) throughout the state," Atlantic City coach Gene Allen said.
Opposing teams also know who won state titles. Atlantic City and Cedar Creek opponents will be especially motivated this season.
A win over a state championship can make a team's year even if it comes in the regular season.
"Everybody is coming at you," Allen said. "We're trying to instill in the kids that there are no nights off. Everyone wants to say they beat a state champion."
Atlantic City returns standouts Jahleem Montague, Dayshawn Reynolds, Ga-briel Chandler and Isaiah Graves from last season's team.
The Vikings are again among the favorites in South Jersey Group IV. But the South Jersey Group IV bracket is among the state's toughest with powers Easter, Shawnee and Lenape in it.
"I don't know if we understand what it takes to win another one," Allen said. "It's not as easy as showing up and saying, 'We're here.' "
Cedar Creek returns all five starters because it had no seniors last season.
But not everything is the same. The Pirates, because of the addition of another class at the school, move from Group I to the Group II enrollment group.
Group II features some of the state's top teams, most notably Pt. Pleasant Borough and Malcolm X. Shabazz of Newark.
"We know it's going to be tougher," Raph said. "A lot of people don't think we can do it. For us, that's a motivator."
History shows hard it is to repeat, but it can be done.
The Wildwood girls (2000-02), the Absegami girls (2005-06), the Atlantic City girls (1981-82), the Middle Township boys (1993-94), the Pleasantville boys (1995-96) and the Wildwood boys (1940-42) all repeated as state champions.
Raph spoke to her team the first day of practice this season. They looked at the championship banner.
"Understand," Raph told the team, "that was last year. It's what we do today not what we did yesterday."
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