Dundee-Crown's baby teeth have been replaced by fangs.
There wasn't much bite to D-C boys basketball in recent years as younger players learned hard lessons at the varsity level. The program went 25-85 over the last four seasons, including a 3-23 record in 2015-16 followed by a 4-23 finish a year ago.
However, the Chargers are trending upward. With Wednesday's 19-point Fox Valley Conference win over Huntley, Dundee-Crown (5-1, 2-0) has already won more games than in either of the past two seasons.
"It's awesome," 6-foot-8 senior center Gabe Bergeron said. "A lot of work has been put in during practice. Obviously, coming into this season it was kind of rough having that on our resume -- a 3-win season and a 4-win season -- but we knew we needed to turn it around and this would be the year. We're really excited and we're looking to keep going."
It's an intriguing mix of players, led by four-year varsity guard Jack Orndahl and Bergeron, a third-year varsity performer. They are joined by a talented junior class, which produced three of Wednesday's starters: guards Jordan Hairston and Damarion Butler and 6-5 forward Brad Stec.
Orndahl initially specialized in the 3-point shot but has developed a well-rounded game. As a junior he averaged 9.7 ppg and shot 35 percent from 3-point range (47 of 135). Through 6 games he is averaging 11.7 ppg and shooting 39 percent from 3-point range (14 of 35).
Likewise, Bergeron's production is on the rise. He averaged 7.2 points and 5.2 rebounds as a junior. Thus far in 2017, he is averaging 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. He produces in the classroom, too. Bergeron carries a 3.6 grade-point average while taking classes like AP Psychology and AP Environmental Science. He has had interest from high-academic Division-III basketball programs like the University of Chicago, Illinois Wesleyan, Denison University in Ohio and Emory University in Atlanta.
"I think it's eye-opening how much he has improved," Orndahl said of Bergeron. "He came to basketball kind of late so his skills were kind of behind and it was like he didn't fit into his body yet. This year he's really grown into a good player. His ability to consistently hit that post shot is huge for us because a huge point of our offense is getting it inside to our big guys."
No longer pushed around by older players, Orndahl and Bergeron are playing a more physical brand of defense that has rubbed off on their teammates and translated to better results. Through 6 contests the Chargers are holding opponents to 43 ppg. Take away the 78 points allowed in a season-opening loss to Burlington Central (4-2) and that number dips to 36 ppg.
"The difference is the defense," Orndahl said. "We don't necessarily have to rely on our offense as much when the defense is pressuring and we know we can force turnovers. That's definitely a difference this year than other years.
"These last two years haven't been fun, but I think those two years have definitely prepared us for this moment. Right now we're off to a good start. I just hope we can keep it up."
Fifteenth-year coach Lance Huber, who guided Dundee-Crown to the Final Four in 2008-09, likes the direction things are headed.
"We have really good players and they're playing really well right now and they're working pretty hard," he said. "If we can just continue to do that, we can be a good team. We're making strides. But we have good players. We have some size, we have some guards and they're really coming together. Hopefully, we can continue to grow and build on it."
There's a long way to go: Disappointed? Sure, but none of the Saints were too worried after St. Charles East (4-2, 0-1) dropped a 61-56 Upstate Eight River decision at rival St. Charles North (4-2, 1-0) last Friday, including captain Justin Hardy, whose 12 points were 8 below his 2016-17 average.
"We just need a couple of more guys to step up and play minutes," Hardy said. "If we do that, we'll be nine or 10 deep and we'll be really strong. The conference is a long race. One game might make the difference in the end, but we can't let this ruin our season just by having one bad game."
The Saints return to action Friday when they host Elgin (1-4, 0-2) at 7 p.m.
Still winning: Harvest Christian Academy in Elgin made a coaching change after last season and multiple players transferred out of the program, yet new coach Bryan Bradshaw has the Lions sitting 3-1 heading into Friday's rematch with visiting Aurora Christian, which defeated Harvest 75-59 last Saturday.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Bradshaw, whose Lions recently defeated Marmion and Aurora Central Catholic. "We have a great group of guys, kids who are coachable and want to work."
Bradshaw's goal is to win basketball games without compromising the school's primary mission.
"They are great kids and they're buying into what we're doing on the court and what we're doing off the floor," he said. "It says it on our jersey -- Harvest Christian Academy -- so you are not only representing your school but we're representing our church, Harvest Bible Chapel, and Jesus Christ. We have a saying that we use: by the standard. Everything we do is by the standard and the standard is Christ. The guys are living up to that and I'm really proud of the way that they've started the season."