It was late December last year and Audubon's boys' basketball team had just lost by 30 points in its own holiday tournament to Gloucester when coach Dave Ricci tried to get a true read on his unit.

The team played at 2 p.m. and Ricci said that practice would be that same evening at 9.

When he walked into the gym, Ricci noticed there was perfect attendance. The players on that young team wanted to improve.

Audubon won just three games last season. But that evening showed Ricci that once his young group got experience, the Green Wave would turn around their basketball fortunes.

Fast forward to yesterday, and while it's too early to determine whether Audubon has turned the corner, the Green Wave are definitely stepping in a positive direction.

Audubon surpassed last year's win total with a 66-51 championship victory over Moorestown Friends in the Green Wave's holiday tournament.

Now 4-1, Audubon has won four in a row since an opening 56-48 loss to perennial Group 2 and Colonial contender Haddonfield.

And those young players who needed to practice after a game are showing maturity.

"When they all showed up for that practice, it showed me these kids wanted to win," Ricci said. "We didn't win a lot of games last year, but they fought hard."

And that effort gave Ricci hope for this year, especially with the starting lineup virtually intact.

Audubon's two main contributors yesterday were 6-foot-5 junior Brandon Hill, who had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and 6-6 junior Wade Gies, who contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds. He hit all six of his field-goal attempts.

Gies, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds in a 54-41 semifinal win over Gloucester, was named tournament MVP. Both Gies and Hill have been starters since their freshman seasons.

"I don't like losing, and basketball is now fun," said Gies, known more for his baseball exploits. "We have a lot more confidence now."

Audubon has just one senior starter, 6-foot Sean O'Connor. The other starters are 5-10 sophomore T.J. Tassi and 6-1 junior John Flacco.

In essence. this is still a young team but one that is now learning to win after winning three games each of the previous two seasons.

"I think we learned a lot from the past two years," said Hill, a quarterback who says he has received a football offer from Rutgers. "Now it's great to come to the gym."

Audubon had lost to Moorestown Friends in each of the last two years, but Ricci didn't need that fact as motivational fodder.

His team was chasing a championship.

"I told them I don't care if there are just two teams, a championship is a championship," Ricci said.

Ricci realizes his team is far from a finished product, but the Green Wave will enter 2009 feeling pretty good about things.

And following yesterday's victory, the most noticeable sign of progress came when the players didn't have to return last night for practice, able to savor a victory instead.

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com