If this were three years ago, the Allderdice boys' basketball team would be turning in its jerseys this week.
Instead the Dragons are gearing up for the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs armed with a tall and experienced roster capable of making a run.
Three seasons ago, Allderdice lost to a fellow Class AAAA school, Schenley, in the City League final. There was no play-in round that season and Schenley was the only District 8 qualifier.
This season Allderdice got past Schenley in the City League semifinals before losing to Perry in the City League title game. Because Perry is a Class AAA school, Allderdice will represent District 8 as its first-place team in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
Looking at his team this year, Allderdice coach Andre McDonald sees a lot of similarities to the 2006-07 Dragons team that was the last to reach the title game. McDonald was an assistant under Buddy Valinsky that season.
Both teams went 13-3 in league play and had stout defenses with this year's team leading the City League, allowing 48.6 points per game.
"I believe our team can bounce back this year because we are a good basketball team that just had a bad day [in the City League title game]," McDonald said.
"We are still good enough to compete in the PIAA playoffs."
The only starter from the 2006-07 team that remains is senior point guard Roddell Smalls, who started as a freshman. Allderdice (20-5) is one win away from matching the 21-win performance by that team.
Another senior on the team, Will Clarke, a 6-foot-6 impact center, was a freshman brought up from the ninth grade team for the City League playoff run. Clarke is a hotly sought after football recruit who has narrowed his choices to Pitt, West Virginia and Akron but is also one of the City League's best basketball players.
"I think it's great we get another chance because usually when a team loses in the championship or the semis it is back to the drawing board and prepare for next year," Clarke said.
"This loss [against Perry] will prepare us for the next game. All the stuff that we now know, we don't have to wait to next year to apply it. We can use it now.
"From a standpoint of being a senior we know that this is our last chance and that makes you work harder."
Many saw how valuable Clarke and 6-4 junior forward Ishmael Swain are to the team after both recorded two first quarter fouls in the City League title loss to Perry. With Clarke and Swain in foul trouble for the majority of the game, Perry built an early lead on its way to a 61-35 victory.
Clarke and Swain are the leading scorers on the team, both averaging around 13 points per game. Junior shooting guard Brandon McClester is another returning starter for the Dragons. He has been a consistent performer on the perimeter. In a 64-53 City League semifinal win over Schenley, McClester had a team-high 22 points.
Allderdice will face WPIAL runner-up Mt. Lebanon (21-5), a familiar opponent, in the PIAA first round Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Peabody. Knowing that a postseason run was possible with his team this year, McDonald scheduled a challenging out of league schedule of games, including a matchup against Mt. Lebanon. Allderdice defeated Mt. Lebanon, 42-40, Jan. 17.
State College, the top team out of District 6, was also on the schedule and Allderdice knocked off the Little Lions, too, 52-45. Looking ahead, if Allderdice were to get out of the first round, State College is a potential second-round opponent. The last Allderdice team to defeat Mt. Lebanon was the 2005-06 edition that reached the City League title game.
"We are very excited to play them again," McDonald said. "That is a very good team. We did very well the first time, we had our guards pressure [Mt. Lebanon guard] Evan [Pierce] and as far as size they have a big front court but we do to."
In the regular-season meeting against Mt. Lebanon, the Allderdice defense was able to hold Pierce, the Blue Devils leading scorer, to only seven points. Pierce averaged 19 points per game during the regular season.