This was North Catholic's off-season: Four players, including three of the team's top six scorers, transferred. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced in early October that the school would close after this year. The coach, Mike McCarron, abruptly resigned a week later, citing a private family matter.

Mike Terry watched it all unfold. The Falcons star guard committed to play at Boston University in July. But he never had any thoughts of leaving North for his senior season, not after all this.

"I've been here all four years," Terry said. "This is more than playing basketball. This is my family. And to leave just because a few players left and the coach left, it wouldn't be right."

Terry said his faith was rewarded when assistant coach Guy Moore was named North Catholic's 20th - and likely final - coach Nov. 12. Finally, he could hope for all the craziness to cease.

"It was really important that he got the job," Terry said of Moore. "He was the guy who kept us together. He knew what we had been through."

Now comes the hard part: Proving everyone wrong. Two seasons removed from a Catholic League championship, Terry leads a group of experienced, but undersize seniors. Moore, a graduate of Roman Catholic and Temple, is a head coach for the first time.

And the program is on its last legs.

"I don't bring it up at all," Moore said. "The kids don't bring it up. They just want to go out strong. This is the senior season for the majority of our rotation. They want this to be special for them. Regardless if the school is going to close or not, they still have a job to do."

Those seniors haven't had a chance to reflect on only that task until recently. After a successful 17-9 season and appearance in the Catholic League semifinals, four players - including 6-foot-9 junior Rakeem Christmas and 6-foot-6 senior Jack O'Neill - transferred.

Christmas, who averaged 10.2 points as a sophomore and is one of the most highly sought after players in the Class of 2011, landed at Academy of the New Church. O'Neill led the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game. He will play this season for Wissahickon, his third school in three years.

On Oct. 8, the Archdiocese announced that North and Cardinal Dougherty would close after the current school year. Exactly a week later, McCarron resigned after meeting with the North Catholic players. McCarron told the players that a family member had a serious health issue.

"It was a lot for him on a personal level," Moore said of McCarron. "It was a shock to all of us, really. We were such a tight-knit family. Mike built that program back up. He really put his heart and soul into it. He did a lot for those kids."

So for a month, Moore acted as the steward of the program. He was instructed by school officials to take care of the day-to-day operations of the team while North Catholic figured out what to do with the open position. Someone needed to open up the gym for practice. Someone had to keep an eye on the players and prepare for the fast-approaching season.

Moore was effectively assigned to pick up the pieces from a devastating few months.

"It's been crazy," Terry said. "But it's coming together."

Part of that, Terry said, can be attributed to Moore. He was hired as the freshman coach in 2006, the same season that Terry and the six other current seniors were freshmen. For the last two seasons, Moore coached the junior varsity squad.

After an interview with school officials, Moore was offered the head job Nov. 12. He accepted, even if it meant he could not continue his volunteer position with the Sonny Hill League as tournament director, a position he has held since 1998.

"The transition for me has been very smooth because of the quality of the kids we have," Moore said. "There had been distractions, but because of the strength of our kids, it's been very easy."

Along with Terry, the Falcons return a bevy of experienced perimeter players in Jaleel Mack, Woody Redding and Bob Makor. Moore has emphasized defense in practice simply because North Catholic lacks legitimate size. The tallest player, 6-foot-4 senior Gabe Carter, played just 12 minutes at the varsity level last season.

"Defense is going to be our best friend, without a doubt," Moore said. "We're going to be very scrappy because we have to be."

The new coach and his players have had plenty of practice at that in this challenging off-season. Now, the games can finally begin. And with that comes something rarely whispered at North Catholic of late: Optimism.

"I believe we're going to shock a lot of people this year," Terry said. "The guys really want it."