Penn Wood boys' basketball coach Clyde Jones isn't predicting a repeat - but he says little has changed in the makeup and chemistry of last season's Class AAAA state champions.
Led by senior point guard Tyree Johnson and a cast of returning supporters, the Patriots do not lack experience.
"It's really not a different team," Jones said. "It's just a team with a lot of the same guys but without guys like Dwayne Johnson and Thomas White."
Under the leadership of their seniors, the Patriots cruised to a 28-4 record and defeated William Penn-York in the state final to earn Penn Wood its first state championship. The Patriots were ranked among the nation's elite, climbing as high as No. 7 in the East category of the USA Today Super Rankings.
"It was incredible," Jones said. "It was a great community experience for our kids. It was phenomenal because I actually saw the even flow of my kids growing and as players and as we came together as a team."
This season, Penn Wood plans on picking up where it left off.
"Our chemistry has been really good," Jones said. "Our kids know what to expect. They know each other well. They played together in the summer, and we try to keep them in the gym as much as possible and playing with people that we know and that we're familiar with."
To stay fresh during the off-season, the Patriots entered some summer competitions, including the Houston Invitational, where they lost in the championship game to Gonzaga High School from Washington, D.C.
Jones also enlisted the help of his players at the Philly Point Guard Camp, a weekly youth basketball camp run by Jones. Working at the camp gave his players the opportunity to stay focused and work with young children, Jones said.
Staying focused has come easy for Penn Wood. Jones said his team doesn't feel any pressure after winning a title.
"Honestly, there was a lot more pressure last year because we had just started receiving some of the hype and exposure," he said. "I had to remind my kids that it was just hype and we hadn't accomplished anything."
This year, almost all of the Patriots starters have played in high pressure games - most notably the 6-foot-1 Johnson, whose scoring and passing abilities played an integral role in Penn Wood's run to the state title last March.
Johnson will be joined by forward Shawn Oakman, and guards Aaron Brown, Dequan Pelzer and Will Brown - all of whom played a significant number of minutes last year.
Junior Darian Barnes will look to get into the mix as well. Though the forward didn't play much in the 2008-09 season, Jones said the 6-8 Barnes can add some size to the Patriots' game.
"He didn't play much last year but could have played a lot more," Jones said. "He's in our starting lineup right now. He had a phenomenal summer."
Jones said the bigger lineup may alter the up-tempo style the Patriots exhibited last season, but don't expect them to slow down too much.
"Our style changed a little bit from last year," he said. "We're probably not as much of a full-court pressure team but we'll still try to play up tempo. We have more of a focus on inside play this year."
Penn Wood opens its season Tuesday at Holy Ghost Prep.