Two of the area's most talented boys' varsity basketball teams practice at the Phelps School in Malvern every day. And they both represent Phelps.

Feeling confused? It's normal. Fielding two teams? It's legal, when academic and athletic paths don't follow the conventional road.

Phelps is a small boarding school for boys, grades seven through postgraduate. The latter is another word for a fifth-year high school student who normally already has graduated from a four-year school but must improve his academic qualifications for college admissions and occasionally - in the case of some basketball players - for NCAA eligibility.

"They're all kids who have graduated who are taking a postgrad year, a prep year, in order to get through the NCAA clearinghouse," said second-year coach Matt Scavitto. "Our high school league, the Tri-County, has disallowed postgrads. So . . . we have our postgrad team, which will play in all the tournaments and all the nonleague games, and then the high school team that will play in the Tri-County and against the PIAA schools."

It's complicated, but that's the skinny - 16 players, two teams, one school.

And though the school's first postgrad roster looks like an all-star team - some players transferred from outside the state - Phelps' regular high school team finished 25-4 last season (19-0 in the Tri-County) and also has made important additions.

The postgrad starting five consists of 2009 McDonald's all-American nominee Tyree Harris (Prep Charter), another All-American nominee in Jahmad Saleem (Cross Creek, Ga.), Donovan Womack (Delcastle Tech, Del.), Terrance Bailey (Trenton, N.J.), and Darian Doleman (York, Pa.).

As of last Thursday - five games into Phelps' season, which begins early since the Lions are not a PIAA member - every player on the postgrad team's starting five was averaging in double figures. Phelps was averaging 82.8 points per game. Four different players led the team in scoring (Harris twice) as the Lions won four of five, and 6-foot point guard Saleem led all scorers at 19.1 points per outing.

The Phelps high school team starts seniors Renier Riddick and Eric Young, juniors Zach Hagan and Virgil Arroyo, and 6-5 sophomore Damien Williams, a transfer from Plymouth Whitemarsh.

Scavitto said Williams already has received recruiting interest from Florida State, Nebraska, and Villanova.

Young is a 6-3, 241-pound senior forward who averaged 16.7 over the last two seasons and is fewer than 300 points away from becoming the first-ever 1,000-point scorer at Phelps.

Young and Williams are so talented that they both also receive significant minutes in the postgrad games, even though they also start for the regular high school team.

"The high school kids are essentially on the postgrad roster, except two of them, so there's some good continuity and the two squads need to be at every practice," Scavitto said. "They all need to know the same offenses, the same defenses."

In practice, does Scavitto scrimmage his postgrad starters against his high school starters to develop chemistry within the separate groups?

"We have, but sometimes it's too big of a mismatch with Harris and Doleman being on the same team," Scavitto said of his 6-8 and 6-7 postgrad forwards, respectively. "So, usually I'll split those two up."

Phelps actually had another big man when the season began, 6-6 Great Valley senior transfer Chris Hobson, but he is now out for the season with two split Achilles tendons.

Even so, the Lions are rolling.

"The one team we lost to had eight Division I signees, and the starting lineup was like 7-2, 7-foot, 6-11, and their guards were like 6-8 and 6-4," said Scavitto, referring to a 101-97 loss to Ocean Academy on Nov. 11th. "They brought two 7-footers off the bench."

Scavitto pointed out that Phelps was not the only program accepting and starting postgraduates.

"It's important to understand, and a lot of people don't, that we don't go out and recruit. The kids really come to us," Scavitto said.

"And that's a credit to the small class size we have, definitely a good faculty-to-student ratio, an SAT prep program, and a college counselor to really help these kids get into college."

Scavitto said Phelps has only 128 students across its seven grade levels, and that a large portion of the school's population is international.

"We're not really an athletic school," the coach said. "Basketball has been fortunate the last couple years."

Phelps is not a member of the PIAA, so the Lions' postseason will only include the Independent Schools Tournament, which lengthens the season for teams from the Friends League, Inter-Academic League, and other unaffiliated programs that cannot compete for a sanctioned state championship.

But as the Lions' postgraduate team plays in invitational showcases and tournaments to earn nationwide recognition, Phelps' high school team has its pride on the line in league play.

"We went undefeated last year in the Tri-County League, and we didn't win any game by less than 10 [points]," Scavitto said. "Even the crop of young guys we have this year are going to be much better than last year. So everyone's pulling to go undefeated in the Tri-County."