The lack of frills starts at the door, propped open by a traffic cone. Don’t look for Harcum College’s gym on a map. Start by looking for Our Mother of Good Counsel in Bryn Mawr, right across from the Acme on Lancaster Avenue.

The court inside, four feet shy of regulation, was designed for CYO hoops.

Wait, though, check out the banners. Inside that propped-open door on those church grounds, there is a junior college men’s powerhouse, one victory Saturday down in Maryland from returning to the national JUCO tournament in Kansas, where 24 schools gather and Division I assistants scan the court looking to fill last-minute needs.

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One of the banners inside the gym notes a 2014 Final Four appearance for Harcum. This season, there’s hope to return to such a level, with talent headed for the Big 5 (Louis Bleechmore, to St. Joseph’s) and in from the Big 5 (Derrius Ward, from La Salle, and Tegra Izay arriving for next season) and a big man, Mohamed Wague, born in Mali, who has a growing list of D1 offers, with local schools interested and Power 5 schools poking around.

“He might be the best player we’ve ever had,” said Harcum coach Drew Kelly.

It’s not fair to try to judge the level of talent in terms of how Harcum would fare against Division I schools, but Kelly, who built this program from scratch, and once was a Villanova manager himself in the ‘90s, puts it this way: If they played D1 teams that could only play their freshmen and sophomores, Harcum would hold its own.

“I give these guys credit,” Kelly said during a break this week in practice. “We started practicing June 24. They still come in here with a lot of energy every day.”

Winning helps. Harcum is 29-2, ranked ninth nationally among the top tier of JUCOs. Kelly tells his players to stay in the moment, since this is highly likely to be the best team they ever play on. He means that in terms of success, but maybe talent, too.

Their coach understands the pressures they all feel, primarily to make it to the next level, since that’s been the goal for all these guys. He’s seen the pressure occasionally get to some over the years, seen tears. He stays even-keeled, offering second chances within this place that is already a second chance.

That much caring by all these players, it translates — you see it in practice. Or after practice, a forward draining three-pointers. How many shots does that guy get in a game?

“He doesn’t play much,” Kelly said. “Next year.”

During practice, your eye and the ball get drawn to Yazid Powell, former Overbrook High star, who scored 81 points in a 2020 game for the Community College of Beaver County, one of the ultimate Kobe Bryant tributes. Powell was chosen by his teammates to go for the honor. He is headed next to Northern Illinois, to play in the Mid-American Conference.

“He’s the guy we follow into battle,” said Harcum assistant coach John Ball. “He’s our heart and soul, that one.”

The level of talent, start to bottom …

“It’s so high, you could change the whole starting five and they’d think they belonged,” Powell said after practice. “Anybody can play any position. Everybody’s equal, anybody can step up.”

The numbers back him up. Top scorer, 15 a game. All the starters, in double digits.

“Everybody can score, even from our bench,” Powell said.

It depends on how your day is going, he added.

“If you’re hitting shots, we’re going to try to get you the ball,” Powell said. “It’s not about who’s scoring. We hit shots, and we can press. We press the whole game. So it’s like wear teams down. At first it looks like it’s close. But then other teams get so tired … we take off on them the second half. If we’re playing a good team, they’re going to last until halftime, then we wear them right down. We practice it every day.”

Go over the roster with the coaches, you get a tour of how the basketball world operates. Which former Big 5 assistant had a tip for them, how they’ve got the Philly guys like Powell and Ward and Tre Dinkins from Cardinal O’Hara, but also players from Mali and Australia and Canada and South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That’s not breaking the recruiting budget, because all the foreign-born players made their way here for high school ball. Three Harcum players were at Scotland (Pa.) Prep. Recruiting one led to the others.

Sometimes you get lucky. Ball, the assistant, remembers scrolling through Twitter a couple of years ago … “Who the heck is this?” He reached out, didn’t get a call back from the player’s brother. Ball found out later that the brother was getting so many calls, he just turned his phone off. But a year later, Harcum saw Justin Owens again. “We were the first JC to come back around,” and Owens is a freshman, mostly off the bench this season.

Of Bleechmore, originally from Australia, by way of Scotland Prep, headed for Hawk Hill, “He’s a toughness leader, a vocal leader,” Kelly said. “He does everything.”

The coaches speak highly of all the progress made by Ward, on and off the court. “He’s done a really good job of not giving up on the little things,” Kelly said. “There was a turnover — he was in the opposite corner. He sprinted all the way back and contested the layup.”

It’s the little things that get you noticed. Kelly is being careful this time of year. He kept a couple of starters out of practice, since turning an ankle wouldn’t be good one stop of the national tournament. The guys are already in shape. They know the plays.

Of Harcums’s collective basketball IQ, Powell said, “It’s very high. Say if Coach draws a play up, we can execute the play, but since we’re on the floor, we see something, anyone can switch it up and we go off them. Because we know, we can read. Our offense is all about reading. Anyone can play-make.”

Just leave a door open, even with a traffic cone.