The formula has been the same for the York High boys' basketball team ever since Troy Sowers took over as head coach 12 years ago.
Play a really tough non-league schedule so that it better prepares the team for the York-Adams League and any future postseason tournaments.
That mindset stayed the same heading into this year, even though it's Clovis Gallon on the sidelines and no longer Sowers. The first test the Gallon-led Bearcats would get under his watch came this weekend in the always-stacked York High Tip-Off Tournament.
There was little known what York would have this season after losing three-fifths of its starting lineup to graduation off of last year's 12-11 team. On the roster, there are seven seniors listed, but it's still a very young team, with most of those seniors very limited in varsity experience. Gallon even opened the season with two sophomores in his starting five.
With Reading, Williamsport and South Philadelphia also taking part in the two-day tournament, it seemed like there was a good chance the 2016-17 Bearcats season would open with back-to-back losses.
Yet, York High showed its home fans something this weekend, playing with grit and heart and potentially more athleticism than most would've predicted.
First there came the 73-72 win over South Philadelphia on Saturday night to open the season with a win and get the Bearcats into Sunday's championship game. In that contest, four different players scored in double figures, led by senior Jayden Iturmendi's team-high 20. Fellow senior Jacquez Casiano didn't shoot the way he's capable, but still chipped in with 15, while Iturmendi's cousin, Jeremiah McCarter, added 15 off the bench and Kyree Generett poured in 12 off the bench as well. The depth is what stood out about York High on Saturday. If it can routinely get four guys in double figures per game this year, that'll go a long way in making this team successful.
But, that was just the beginning of the challenging opening weekend.
Facing the Bearcats on Sunday afternoon was a showdown with one of the best teams in the state in Class 6-A in Reading. Awaiting York High wasn't just a tough team, but also the state's top player in Lonnie Walker IV, a University of Miami commit and the No. 19 rated player in the nation for the Class of 2017, according to ESPN.
Going into the game, it would've taken even the biggest optimist to predict a York High win. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Bearcats were down by 17, the inevitable blowout poised to happen.
However, York High battled back and at one point, with about two minutes to play, trimmed the deficit to just four. Eventually, time ran out on the comeback attempt, losing this one 73-66.
On paper, a nine-point win for the Knights would look comfortable and to an extent it was, never trailing in the game. But, at times, it was anything but that. In less than 24 hours, the Bearcats seamlessly changed up their game plan, going from their traditional man-to-man defense into a 2-3 zone, knowing that it didn't have one player capable of slowing down the 6-foot, 5-inch Walker. And, to an extent, the zone worked.
Walker was held to just seven points on 3-of-8 shooting, while the York High defense forced him and Tyrone Nesby into foul trouble throughout the contest. Part of that was the Bearcats not afraid to take a charge on bigger players, while the other part had to do with none of the players fearful of attacking the basket on offense. Too bad a team like Reading has much more than just Walker and York couldn't find an answer to every one of the Knights' offensive weapons.
The game itself was more a test of character than what the scoreboard showed at the end. A win would've simply been the cherry on top. York High passed that test, too.
The balance of scoring wasn't there, like Saturday, but McCarter came off the bench again to put up a team-high 18 points, followed by Iturmendi's 17 and Casiano's 14. Simply put, it was just too tall of a task to ask out of a less-than-experienced team only two games into the season.
Instead, it could be viewed as a measuring stick game. Something that the Bearcats can look to for the rest of the season and know that that is the level that it must play in order to be champions.
"Grit, determination and perseverance," Gallon said about what his team showed him on Sunday. "Those are things we talk about all the time. We talk about playing for 32 minutes and that we're going to compete till the end."
If they can, then a possible Division I title could be in the cards, as well as a Y-A League title and a run in the District 3 5-A tournament and potential state playoff berth.
It's a long season ahead, but if York High plays anything like it did this weekend on a nightly basis, then it could be much of the same success the program saw under Sowers, only this time it'll be under Gallon.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org