The Pioneer Athletic Conference lost one of its founding member schools when St. Pius X closed in June, but the league gained a new member in Pope John Paul II, which opened in September with students from Pius and Kennedy-Kenrick.

So when the basketball season opens Friday, the PAC-10 will have some new and some familiar faces.

One new face on the sideline will be Pope John Paul II boys' coach Jack Flanagan, the former varsity coach at Kennedy-Kenrick.

"Things have been going well at practice, and it's been exciting with a brand new school," Flanagan said. "It's challenging getting the kids from two different schools to play as one unit, but they're eager and have a positive attitude."

Flanagan's job is a bit easier than one might expect because he knows the players from both Kennedy-Kenrick and Pius X.

"This is a unique situation for me. I coached the last four years at Kennedy-Kenrick, and taught the past eight years at Pius X, so I've known the kids both on the court and in the classroom," he said.

"It's neat for me seeing these two groups of kids that I know get to know each other. It's great how they're meshing together so well. We've been fortunate here at Pope John Paul II that the student population as a whole has come together so quickly.

Players whom Flanagan expects to see plenty of playing time include forwards Paul Mills, Jake Gribb, Leland Taylor and Jamel Stinson, and guards Jeff Evans, Billy Malescio, Dave Bottellese and Brent Mahoney.

With Gribb being the tallest player at 6-foot-4, the Golden Panthers are going to be one of the smallest teams in the league.

"We're going to have to do things off the ball and play tight defense to compensate for our lack of height," Flanagan said. "I'm looking for us to use quick ball-handling and be strong on the perimeter."

In addition to coaching and teaching three classes, Flanagan is also the school's athletic director.

"It requires a lot of juggling with my time, but I have the full support of the administration and staff," Flanagan said. "If I were coaching a fall or spring team, I don't think I could do both, but with fewer sports during the winter season, I've been able to work things out.

Flanagan said he couldn't do the coaching job without his assistants, twins Dan and Mike Rafferty and their cousin Matt Rafferty.

"Dan and Mike came from Kennedy-Kenrick, while Matt was the freshman coach at Pius X," Flanagan said. "They're self-starting types and have been a huge help to me. They do a lot of the planning for practice, drills and take a lot of pressure off me."

Flanagan and his staff are enjoying being part of establishing a new tradition.

"It's a challenge, but a fun challenge," Flanagan said. "Each day, we are doing something historic, whether it's the first practice, first game, and, hopefully, our first win. The way the kids have bonded so rapidly can't help but make us successful."

Contact Bob Cabnet