When it comes to Friends Schools League basketball, the words
"The perception when I came in was that the league was very weak," said Kevin Givens, a 14-year coach at the Academy of the New Church.
Another perception was that Abington Friends or Friends Central always ran away with the title.
But this season, the Academy of the New Church and Westtown both have legitimate shots to win the title. And those schools, along with Shipley and George School, are also starting to become hotbeds for young talent.
"It's not the Philadelphia Catholic League," Westtown coach Seth Berger said, "but it's not what it used to be."
Givens went a step further in giving a comparison to other leagues.
"Back in the day, it was always the Public League, Catholic League and the Inter-Ac," said Givens, who played at Academy of the New Church in 1980. "I think we can compete with the Inter-Ac with our teams this year."
Perhaps. Givens' Lions are ranked ninth in The Inquirer's Southeastern Pennsylvania preseason rankings. Friends Central is one of The Inquirer's area's teams to watch, and Westtown could make some serious noise this season.
The Lions have a lot to do with outsiders' favorable perception of the league. Once a league doormat, the Academy of New Church finished last season with a 26-2 record and a national ranking of 22d by USA Today.
Gone are four starters from last season's squad. However, the Lions should be able to make a run for a third consecutive FSL crown.
Point guard Kenny Ross, a 6-foot senior, is being recruited by Colgate, Cornell, Vermont, Lehigh and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
In addition to Ross, the Lions boast arguably the best crop of underclassmen in freshman Savon Goodman, sophomore Malcolm Gilbert and junior Warren Gillis.
Goodman, a 6-foot-6 forward, is the nation's 14th-best prospect in the Class of 2012, according to Generation Next. Gilbert, a 6-111/2 center, already has scholarship offers from Rutgers and Maryland. And Gillis, a 6-3 guard, is exciting to watch.
Having a roster loaded with Division I prospects was unheard of at ANC five seasons ago.
Back then, basketball was hardly a priority at the school.
"We opened the doors to our school," Givens said. "Four years ago, it was just the traditional schools from the Bryn Athyn community. Now we have nontraditional population that is coming to the school."