A year ago, the Camden Catholic boys' basketball team was the toast of South Jersey, not to mention the best team.

The Irish went 29-2, won the state Non-Public A title, and advanced to the Tournament of Champions final before losing to Trenton Catholic.

It was a memorable season for Irish fans. Unfortunately for them, the season also took away all five senior starters.

This season, the Irish were nowhere to be seen in the Inquirer preseason rankings. The word rebuilding was being suggested, but we should have known better.

That's because there is too much of a track record with coach Jim Crawford, who has won 20 games for 22 straight seasons.

With more than a month played, Camden Catholic is 9-3, improving daily, and inching back toward the rankings after being included in the under-consideration category this week.

And for anybody who has watched Crawford's work over three decades, which includes a 668-213 career record, this season's developments shouldn't be a surprise.

Whether he has an experienced group, or a Green team (pun intended; we'll get to that in a moment), Crawford always seems to have a highly competitive unit.

"I have really liked being under the radar," Crawford said after Monday's 63-49 win over Woodrow Wilson in which 6-foot-5 sophomore Kyle Green scored a game-high 30 points. "We know we have the opportunity to improve in practice, and we aspire to those rankings at the end of the season."

Only one starter, junior guard Matt McElhatton, saw any significant varsity action last year. McElhatton brings savvy and toughness, and is playing despite a sore ankle.

"He's such a great team leader," Crawford said.

The offense goes through Green, who is averaging 20 points and came to Camden Catholic with a basketball IQ off the charts.

Then again, that's no surprise. His parents, Bill and Trish, were standout point guards at Gloucester Catholic and were varsity head coaches. Bill coached the boys' team at Audubon, and Trish [McNutt] won five state titles as Haddonfield girls' coach. That's two more state championships than she won as a player at Gloucester Catholic before earning a scholarship to Fresno State.

Kyle Green scores mainly from inside because he has to for the Irish, but Crawford said he's among his best outside shooters.

Green has a great feel for the game, as evidenced by the touch pass he had for an assist against Wilson, a play that even his parents would have been hard-pressed to pull off in their heyday.

Crawford, not one given to hyperbole, has the highest praise for Green.

"He is one of the best sophomores I ever coached," Crawford said. "He can become one of the best players in school history."

Wow, that's a lot to put on somebody, but Green has the will to keep improving. No wonder Division I coaches already have begun calling Crawford.

Last season, Green was a standout JV player who dressed for varsity and took his lumps in practice.

"It helped me so much going up against the varsity players in practice," Green said. "It was a great experience."

The other three starters are seniors: guard Tom Fisher and forwards Amir Armstrong and Garrett Kashmer. All are tough and can hit big shots.

The three losses this season have been to The Inquirer's No. 1 team, Paul VI; No. 3 Lenape; and Philadelphia's highly regarded West Catholic. Camden Catholic trailed Paul VI by six points entering the final period before being outscored by 14-3.

There have been big wins over preseason Top 10 teams Bishop Eustace and Eastern. Against Eastern, the Irish overcame a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to win. The Irish are prone to mistakes that are the result of inexperience, but their mind-set has sped the maturation process.

"I like this team as much as any because of their work ethic and their desire to be good," Crawford said. "I look forward each day to coming to the gym."

Regardless of the improvement, Camden Catholic will enter this year's playoffs as a major underdog. And while heavyweights such as No. 1 Paul VI and No. 2 St. Augustine will be among the teams to beat in South Jersey Non-Public A, once again nobody will be doing cartwheels at the prospect of having to face the Irish in March.