IN THE RIDICULOUSLY swollen Public League, which has mushroomed from 35 to 61 teams since 2004, the best basketball is often played below the highest enrollment level.

Don't expect that to change.

The AA classification was already loaded with Prep Charter, Imhotep Charter and Strawberry Mansion. Now, those toughies have been joined by Communications Tech, which has slid backward from AAA after winning the overall Pub title.

Which one is best? The answer could very well be PC, though coach Dan Brinkley lost three underclass starters to transfer (wing guard Parrish Grant even fled to Imhotep). The good thing is, six more key performers are back and one, forward Ferg Myrick, was considered one of the Pub's top five juniors in 2007-08.

CT returns ballhandler Antonio "Gee" Monroe and wing whiz Chris Jones and will be looking to make a statement as early as Thursday, when it visits PC.

Mansion, by the way, already blessed with capable guards and forwards, has added 6-9 transfer Bilal Kelley.

Though it's known for slow starts, Southern will likely emerge as the best squad in AAAA. The chief challenge could come from John Bartram, where point guard Tyrone Garland is likely the league's best player even as a junior.

Class AAA figures to be a two-horse race between Franklin Learning Center (guard Denzel Yard) and Simon Gratz (forward Joe Reid). Guess what? They meet today at Gratz. (Who made this schedule? Someone who dislikes late-season suspense?)

Math, Civics & Sciences figures to frolic in Class A, thanks mostly to swingman Jose Ortiz and guard Zaahir Smith. William Bodine hopes to push, perhaps even with force.

This season, there will be fewer opportunities for advancement into the PIAA state tournament as Catholic League reps also will be vying for spots. There are no Class A CL schools, however.

Seven new schools, listed with their coaches: Mastery Charter North (Ron Brown), Stephen A. Douglas (Joe Gifford), Boys' Latin Charter (Maurice Watson), Future (Don Stockton), Palumbo (Steve Gittleman; yes, the former Abraham Lincoln boss), A. Philip Randolph (Michael Moore) and Science Leadership (Matt Kay).

Randolph and SL played last Thursday. Oops. Beat the PIAA's official starting date by a day. Pub czar Robert Coleman said the game likely will be ruled a double forfeit.

Other new coaches: Joe Laukaitis, Samuel Fels; Orick Smith, Germantown; Ed McGettigan, Abraham Lincoln; William Johnson, Murrell Dobbins Tech; Chris Monahan, Thomas FitzSimons; Tina Wiggins, Horace Furness; Roland Wharton, Gratz; Mike Schieber, William Penn; James "Flame" Lewis, Philadelphia Electrical Charter; Leon Shamsid-Deen, Freire Charter; Pete Canale, Parkway; and Dave Brown, Philadelphia Academy Charter.

Division D opened Friday. The others start getting after it today. *