Now, the Chester Upland School District faces insolvency and potential closure. "There's a possibility," Legette said, "that we might not finish the season."
So far, though, not even the fiscal crisis has been a match for the deep, quick, and savvy Clippers, ranked No. 5 among high schools nationwide by USA Today.
They have not lost a game since December 2010, and this year have a chance to become the first team since 1988 to win back-to-back state championships. The Clippers already have won seven and have made it to district playoffs 40 times.
"It would be a travesty if they were to shut down the school," said coach Larry Yarbray Sr., a former Chester star.
To a man, the players say they are focused solely on basketball, practicing 10 hours a week.
They "don't even talk about" the financial chaos, said junior Darius Robinson, cooling down Wednesday night in the gym after an intense match against some of the toughest competition he has faced all year - the Clippers' reserves. He said the city has too many good players for one school.
The Basketball Family Robinson is a classic chip off the Chester High tradition, which has produced such illustrious alumni as former NBA player Horace Walker and Orlando Magic guard Jameer Nelson.
Darius Robinson's brother Kareem is a senior who somehow generates laserlike passes from a 5-foot-7 frame. He missed seven games as a freshman after being shot in what evidently was a case of mistaken identity; the bullet was never removed. Their older brother, Nasir, a Chester alumnus, is a standout at the University of Pittsburgh.
"When you come from where we do, it's all about Chester basketball," said Rondae Jefferson, a 6-foot-7 junior already eyed by major colleges. His brother, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, is a forward at Temple.
What explains Chester's basketball passion? Fred Pickett, who from 2000 to 2008 became the most successful coach in Chester's history, says it might be something "in the water."
It's a legacy that dates at least to the 1940s, according to local basketball historian Dave Burman, now a radio personality in Lewistown, Pa.
In a town short on parks and swimming pools, youths played football in the streets, catching passes between parked cars, or tried baseball on asphalt schoolyards.
But Chester old-timers recall that basketball courts were ubiquitous. Legendary outdoor venues such as "the Cage," in the West End, and the courts at the old Dewey Mann school and Boys Club drew the likes of NBA legends Wilt Chamberlain and Walt Hazzard, who went to Overbrook High in Philadelphia, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who attended Catholic school in New York.
Like factory whistles, the pounding of dribbled basketballs was part of the Chester soundtrack.
"Chester was a basketball town," said native Bo Ryan, now head coach at the University of Wisconsin, who recalled seeing his first Chester High game at age 6. "It was in everybody."
Senior Erikk Wright said he started playing when he was 5. Darius Robinson was 7. Kareem Robinson was a late bloomer; he didn't start playing until he was 9.
"Basketball is the only thing that exists," said Barry Goodman, a teacher and track coach at Chester for more than 35 years, who believes he has lost some potential track stars to roundball.
He said the teachers used to joke, "If we're going to strike, let's strike during the basketball season."
They never did, of course, and probably wisely.
Said Goodman, "You'd have everyone in the city after them."
Frustration fuels passion
Chester made its first Pennsylvania tournament appearance in 1941, but Legette said the program caught fire in the 1950s.
In 1954, Walker led the Clippers to the state finals and what would become a familiar outcome. They lost. They lost again in 1955, 1957, and 1959, despite having such superstars as Emerson Baynard and Granville "Granny" Lash, who became a Chester politician.
Chester also lost the final in 1966, to a Pittsburgh Schenley team led by future La Salle University star Ken Durrett.
To this day, Pickett is convinced Chester would have won had its all-American guard, Mike Marshall, not fouled out. He recalled that Marshall was called for four offensive fouls that game, matching his career total.
Marshall, who later played for the Harlem Globetrotters, heartily agrees. "They were bad calls," he said. Marshall, like other alumni, still comes to games and helps with coaching.
Chester had few friends among the whistles and stripes, in Ryan's view. "Chester never got the calls," he said. "Chester had to be 10 or 15 points better to win."
The frustrations did nothing but ratchet up the passion among local basketball aspirants, said Ryan. He recalled that when he was on the court, he wasn't fantasizing about being Oscar Robertson, the NBA Hall of Fame point guard. "I was Granny Lash.
"There's not a guy I grew up with," Ryan said, "who didn't dream of playing for Chester High."
Chester finally captured its first state title in 1983. For comparable euphoria, think of the Phillies' 1980 World Series win.
"The city was so elated," Pickett said.
Chester would win six more state titles, three of those under Pickett, who was named The Inquirer's high school coach of the decade.
The Clippers won it all again last year under Yarbray, now in his fourth season.
Except for game days - Chester has 22 on the schedule this season - Yarbray holds practices every day but Sunday, although he has begun setting aside Saturdays for SAT training.
Workouts are brisk.
"Quicker, quicker, quicker," Yarbray shouted during the 10-minute scrimmage between the starters and reserves on Wednesday night.
Yarbray, who is not a district employee and is paid a stipend, said Chester Upland's struggles would not be a distraction.
"We're not going to let it bother us," he said. "We're on a mission to get back up to states."
Legette said that if the district, as threatened, stops paying teachers and other staff, "I'm going to come to work" anyway.
Of the Clippers phenomenon, he said, "I don't know how long it's going to last. But it's been an unbelievable run."
Contact staff writer Anthony R. Wood at 610-761-8423 or email@example.com.
Inquirer staff writer Rick O'Brien contributed to this article.