It's onward and upward for St. Charles North.
Last season the North Stars won their first conference title in history, tying Elgin in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
Coach Tom Poulin believes it's time for the next step.
"It's time to put a run together in the state tournament," he said. "We've had three years where we were one and done. We want to extend that (playoff run). But it's going to be a process. We need to learn to play together and that'll be what we're trying to do every day."
Poulin certainly isn't putting the cart before the horse. But he has a combination of height, outside shooters, ballhandlers, depth, what he calls "a bunch of team-first guys" and one of the area's most dynamic players in 6-foot-4 guard Quinten Payne.
Headed for Loyola to join his older brother Cully next season, senior guard Quinten led the North Stars in scoring at 16.9 points a game, slightly ahead of graduated shot blocker Kyle Nelson. Payne grabbed 5.8 rebounds a game, led the team in steals at 1.8 and followed only returning point guard Tony Neari in assists at 3.1.
"I really like the way he's getting other players involved and making other players better. That's a big, big step for him," Poulin said of Payne.
Height? Headed by center Chris Preocanin listed at 6-8, St. Charles North's roster offers nine players 6-3 or taller. Poulin's preseason "small" lineup could go 6-6, 6-6, 6-4 with Kyle Swanson, Justin Stanko and Payne across the front. Swanson averaged 6.4 points, second to Payne among returnees.
The coach also believes this is the best outside shooting team he's had. Junior guard Alex Goetz averaged but 2.4 points as a sophomore but made 35 percent of his 3-point shots. Poulin called him the team's most skilled offensive player and best shooter, "primed to have a breakout year."
Players such as athletic junior wing player Erik Miller will be part of a deep rotation off the bench to provide scoring, more so than in the past Poulin thinks.
There's always room for improvement. The coach seeks more on the defensive end, and for all their height, over the summer Poulin did not see the aggressive rebounding he'd like.
But his 16-man roster offers players he calls "lunch-bucket types" every team needs. He thinks it's an unselfish bunch committed to improving, which must happen in a division where any number of teams -- St. Charles East, Batavia, Geneva and Larkin among them -- could figure.
"I think we have a group of kids that enjoy playing basketball together, and we have multiple leaders," Poulin said. "We have a hungry group, and it's going to take all of that to compete in our division and our conference, because I think they're loaded."
Coach: Tom Poulin (seventh year, 98-77)
Last year: 13-16, 9-3, tied for first in the Upstate Eight River
Key players: Tony Neari, G, sr.; Quinten Payne, G, sr.; Justin Stanko, F, sr.; Kyle Swanson, F, sr.
Skinny: Stars align for a second straight River title?