Girard College may have fewer than 100 boys enrolled in the school but don't accuse the Cavaliers of sidestepping a challenge.
En route to the PIAA Class A championship last season behind the scoring of John Johnson, Girard compiled a 26-4 record. The four losses came at the hands of larger schools: Strawberry Mansion and Imhotep of the Public League, perennial Inter-Academic League power Germantown Academy, and Central Bucks West of the Suburban One League.
The 6-foot-1 Johnson, averaged 22.5 points a game last season, and he's back along with two other starters. And they are looking for a repeat.
"I think we can duplicate it," said a confident Johnson, noting that several of the same nonleague opponents are on the schedule this year. The Cavaliers open tomorrow night in the Pocono Mountain East Tournament, where they will take on Roman Catholic of the Catholic League.
The day after Christmas, Girard faces Strawberry Mansion of the Public League in the Jameer Nelson Classic at Widener University. Its next two games after that are against the Catholic League's Archbishop Wood, also in the Nelson Classic, and District 3 power Harrisburg in the Sneaker Villa Classic at Ben Franklin.
Finally, the Cavaliers open Bicentennial League play against Morrisville at home.
Faced with that challenging schedule, Johnson said the Cavaliers are ready, having tuned up by winning their own summer league championship against teams such as Dobbins, Penn Wood and Frankford.
"Last year, we lost to [Strawberry] Mansion by three," said Girard coach Tyrone Morris, who is in his seventh season at the school. "We bump our schedule up to prepare us for the state run."
Joining Johnson, who has already committed to Pittsburgh, will be Terrell Candelaria, Amir Whiting, Chris White and Josh Olawae, who was out much of last season with an ankle injury.
Morris is also counting heavily on a pair of sophomores, David Ware and Tyreek Peoples. Morris said he plans to use a three-guard offense.
Johnson, who added an average of three rebounds and five assists per game last season, says he's much improved this year, especially when it comes to defense.
"I take pride in defense," Johnson said. "I'm not just a scorer. I want to be a good leader and get my teammates involved. We'll be a much smaller team this year. We've got enough scorers. We'll just have to box out more and get those rebounds."
After beating Holy Ghost Prep last season to win the overall Bicentennial League title, Girard breezed to the state championship game in which they defeated Kennedy Catholic, 80-70. Johnson had 30 points in the game, Candelaria had 15.
"We got a rude awakening in that game," Johnson said. "We didn't expect them to be so tough. This time, we'll be ready."