Before the sun rises, before class starts and before any teacher, administrator or other student sets foot inside the school building, Zack DeVito is there.

He's there for one simple reason: to make the most of his senior season, the last of four years as a starter for the Springfield (Delco) boys' basketball team.

The 6-foot guard walks to the school's upstairs auxiliary gymnasium from his nearby home at 6 each morning to get an early start at perfecting his jump shot.

"I have the combination to the gymnasium and a key to turn the lights on," DeVito said.

"The only people I see are janitors. It's like I sneak in, work on my shots, and get to class."

The day doesn't end at school for DeVito, as he often goes straight to work at the mall, then back to school for team practice, before finally turning to his homework. The hectic schedule caused him to cut back on his hours at work, he said, as he had become "drained." The senior hasn't yet been able to lure any of his fellow teammates to the gym before sunrise.

"I've been doing crazy stuff like this forever. They think it's normal," DeVito said of his teammates' reaction to finding out about his practice routine. "I can feel the results later at practice and definitely want to keep this up throughout the year."

DeVito's shooting is an integral part of the Princeton offensive system put in place by coach Kevin McCormick. Each player on the Cougars is encouraged to shoot from anywhere on the court, and the coach has two simple rules: "Be able to dribble and be able to shoot a three."

The team slightly modifies the system each year, but always has a strong emphasis on player movement without the ball, which DeVito says keeps other teams off balance.

"It's kind of unfair for our opponents, because we know the system so well," said DeVito, who averaged 14 points last season.

DeVito has familiar company at Springfield. For the last nine years, DeVito and three of his teammates have played together, finding success at almost every level. DeVito, Steve Baker, Dave Carpenter, and Brendan McNamee all came to Springfield from Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish, where they won league titles as both fourth and eighth graders.

"They've been together for so long, always been coming to our games. They've aspired to play together here," McCormick said.

This tightly knit group of seniors has caused an influx of energy and emotion from all players at the Cougars' practices, which DeVito credited to the group feeling comfortable with filling the leadership role. McCormick says that practices are kept loose and intended to be fun for the players, with an emphasis on various shooting drills.

"The guys get to see what works and why we run the type of offense that we do," he said.

Contact Matthew Breen