Stern Hebrew High School is a coed Centrist Orthodox Jewish day school in Northeast Philadelphia that has 42 male students and does not recruit for basketball, according to athletic director Bernie Greenberg.

But the Blue Storm - independent of any Southeastern Pennsylvania conference - has fielded strong teams recently under fifth-year coach Ira Stern, who is no relation to the school's namesake.

"When we play against the yeshivas [Jewish schools] in the New York area, they can't believe we're competitive because most of the yeshivas have 300 boys they're choosing from," said Stern, who also coaches the Stern Hebrew girls' team.

Jack Kapenstein, the boys' soccer coach at Stern Hebrew and a PIAA-basketball-certified referee, is helping out as Stern's assistant coach.

This season, the ball is in the hands of junior point guard Leon Aboudi, who represented the United States on its junior boys' soccer team in July at the 18th Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Through its first two contests, the Blue Storm was 0-2, falling to Mercy Vocational and Emily Fisher Charter.

However, senior shooting guard Benji Toaff, who averaged seven points last season, had increased his average to 20.5 through those two games, something Stern said is necessary if Stern Hebrew is going to make up for its departed scorers from last season's 16-5 team.

Yoni Eckman, a 6-foot-6 center, graduated after averaging 17 points, 17 rebounds, and 41/2 blocks. Shooting guard Chason Danzig (13.9 points per game) and point guard Josh Halpern (nine points) also graduated.

Those players combined to average almost 40 points per game and started almost 100 games together during a four-year span.

"To make up for that height and camaraderie last year, that's going to be hard," Stern said. "It's the first time a few of my starters are really seeing any time."

The rotation also will include junior guard Jake Marcus, senior center Netanel Spero, junior power forward Leibel Greenberg, senior guard Aaron Kalish, and junior guard/forward Rocky Seftel.

Aboudi, Marcus, Toaff, Kalish and Spero will start most games, Stern said, with Seftel and Greenberg coming off the bench.

Kalish, behind eight three-pointers, scored 40 points against Columbus (Ohio) Yeshiva in the Cooper Yeshiva Tournament in Memphis over the weekend.

According to Stern, that is the most points scored in one game in Stern Hebrew's history.

After going 1-4 in the tournament and losing two of those games by one point, Stern Hebrew's record fell to 3-7.

Since Stern Hebrew is independent, Greenberg schedules individual games with other independent schools such as Community Academy and the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, as well as Barrack Hebrew and Doane Academy.

But add Stern Hebrew's uniquely long school days to the graduation of so many important players, and there is more than just a rebuilding year threatening to impede the program's consistency.

"Our school ends at 5:30, so the head of the school feels - understandably so - that we can't miss school," Stern said.

"When we go to a game, we're leaving at three, so we're missing 21/2 hours of school. So we try to limit it to one game a week. . . . And then another game we'll play on the weekend if we can get a game."

In all, the Stern Hebrew boys are allowed three days of practice or games during the five-day week, which normally breaks down to one game and two 11/2-hour practices at Pelabno Recreation Center in the Northeast or at an "old synagogue auditorium" that is 50 feet long, according to Stern, and makes simulating game action difficult.

Despite its unique circumstances, Stern Hebrew remains proud to continue playing competitive ball.

Though Stern - who enters his 25th season coaching in the city at Fels, Germantown, Olney and now Stern Hebrew - envisions even better basketball with the appropriate time and facilities.

"If we were practicing five times a week, we would be a major team," Stern said.