They toiled through the dog days in muggy gymnasiums last summer.
They've been practicing since Nov. 6.
They've been playing games since Nov. 20.
They've battled through holiday tournaments and conference rivalry games, spent endless hours mastering drop steps, eurosteps and step backs and devoured more game film than Jay Bilas on a cross-country flight.
All in preparation for the next three weeks.
The big-school boys basketball state tournaments begin Monday and conclude on St. Patrick's Day, when state champions will be crowned in classes 3A and 4A.
Here's a look at the road to Peoria for Fox Valley area teams.
Subsectional A of the Jacobs sectional includes 11 area schools split between regional sites at St. Charles North and Dundee-Crown.
The top seeds in order are Larkin (19-8), Jacobs (24-3), St. Charles East (18-9), St. Charles North (16-10), South Elgin (16-12), Dundee-Crown (14-12), Elgin (10-17), Cary-Grove (13-13), Streamwood (11-18), Huntley (6-22) and Hampshire (5-23).
If seeds hold, Larkin would face the host school at the St. Charles North regional final on Friday. The Upstate Eight River rivals won on each other's court during the regular season.
The North Stars tagged UEC River champion Larkin with its only league loss last Friday, 71-57, thanks to a balanced attack from Zach Ludwig (17 points), Kyle King (14) and Brendan Dal Degan (11).
The Royals counter with 6-foot-10 senior Jalen Shaw (13 ppg., 9 rpg) and senior guard Anthony Lynch (19 ppg), the latter of whom was named UEC River player of the year on Thursday.
Both teams have business to tend to first. Larkin opens the postseason on Tuesday against the winner of Monday's play-in game between Elgin and Streamwood. The Royals went 4-0 against those District U-46 rivals, though Streamwood led Larkin by 9 points in the third quarter on Jan. 12 before the Royals rallied to win by 17.
St. Charles North faces South Elgin in the second semifinal on Wednesday. The North Stars defeated the Storm 70-59 in a Dec. 19 meeting at the Sears Centre.
"Sometimes in the playoffs you like to see other teams and not play a team a third time, but we're guaranteed to do that Tuesday and there's a high probability of doing it again Friday," Larkin coach Deryn Carter said. "If it's North, it's going to be a tough one. They just got done kicking our butt and that taste is still in our mouths. But we're not taking anything for granted against either Elgin or Streamwood. In a way it's good to face a rival in the first game because you know the guys will come mentally ready."
Jacobs is the top seed at the Dundee-Crown regional. If seeds hold, the four-time Fox Valley Conference champs would play St. Charles East and captain Justin Hardy for the regional title.
Jacobs coach Jimmy Roberts doesn't like to project that far. He's not looking past Tuesday's matchup against the winner of Monday's play-in game between FVC rivals Cary-Grove and Huntley. Jacobs is 5-0 against those teams.
"I tell the guys all the time that you've got to worry about the game to get to the game," Roberts said. "It does no good to focus on Friday because it means nothing unless you get by Tuesday. If we do get to Friday, it will be interesting. St. Charles East has Hardy and a lot of kids who can play so we're looking at that or Dundee-Crown on their home floor."
The playing status of Jacobs senior guard Ryan Phillips won't be determined until he sees his doctor at some point next week, Roberts said. Phillips had surgery on Feb. 8 to repair a broken metacarpal in his right ring finger. He averages 14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
St. Charles East has won eight of its last 10 and got sixth man Jude Clodi back from injury last week after a two-month absence. There's a chance point guard Charles Murphy could return this week from a broken leg suffered on Dec. 22, coach Patrick Woods said. The junior returned to practice last week.
The Saints play Wednesday against the winner of Monday's play-in between Dundee-Crown and Hampshire. They aim for a better playoff opener than last season, when they were the No. 2 seed at the Larkin regional but were upset in a semifinal by No. 6 Bartlett, 54-52.
St. Charles East would prefer a run akin to two years ago, when Hardy and guards Zach Robinson and Alec Champine helped the program advance to a sectional final against Rockford Auburn.
At the Crystal Lake South regional, four Fox Valley Conference teams -- CL South, McHenry (19-9), Crystal Lake Central (16-10) and Prairie Ridge (9-18) -- must contend with NIC-10 Conference co-champion Rockford Jefferson (23-6). The J-Hawks defeated Larkin 69-58 on Nov. 25.
Geneva (18-12), Batavia (21-8) and Bartlett (14-12) are assigned to the Glenbard East sectional, which is seeded 1-22. Regional hosts are Bartlett, Naperville North, Addison Trail and Hinsdale South.
No. 3 Wheaton Warrenville South (22-6) is the top seed at Bartlett. The hosts hope to rekindle last year's playoff magic, when the Hawks won two regional games to reach the final at Larkin. To pull off a repeat, No. 12 Bartlett would have to defeat No. 22 Glenbard North (0-26) in Monday's play-in and knock off No. 6 Batavia in Wednesday's semifinal. Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith refuses to look past Glenbard North.
"Their defense is pretty solid," Wolfsmith said. "If they hit their shots, they're a dangerous team. I don't care what their record is."
Bartlett went 9-3 while leading scorer Ben Tompson missed six weeks due to an ankle ligament tear. The Hawks are 5-4 since his Jan. 19 return, a stretch that included losses to Barrington, St. Viator and West Aurora twice.
"Obviously, they've got their guy back and they're better than their record, "Batavia coach Jim Nazos said of the Hawks. "The whole sectional is a gantlet."
No. 8 Geneva opens the playoffs on Tuesday against No. 9 Downers Grove North (13-12). The Trojans are led by 5-foot-11 junior guard Semaj Henderson, who has an offer from Northern Illinois. He could go head to head against Geneva point guard Jack McDonald, a 5-11 junior who leads the Vikings with 14.9 points and 6.8 assists per game.
"Henderson is a next-level player," Geneva coach Scott Hennig said. "Coach (Jim) Thomas is a good friend and does a great job with his program. Downers Grove North plays a difficult schedule and will be ready for Tuesday night."
A Geneva win most likely would set up a Friday matchup against host Naperville North (24-2) for the regional title. The DuPage Valley Conference champion Huskies are the No. 1 seed in the Glenbard East sectional.
Upstate Eight Valley champion West Aurora (21-4) will vie for its second straight regional title at Plainfield South.
The Blackhawks are the No. 2 overall seed in the Romeoville sectional behind only Bolingbrook (19-6), the team that eliminated them last year in a sectional semifinal. Lincoln-Way East (21-5) is No. 3, followed by Joliet Central (21-5).
West Aurora opens the playoffs Tuesday against the winner of Monday's play-in between No. 15 Waubonsie Valley (12-17) and No. 20 Plainfield South (3-25). Wednesday's semifinal pits No. 7 Andrew (18-8) against No. 10 Plainfield North (14-12).
"I'm excited," West Aurora coach Brian Johnson said. "It's going to be a fun tournament. Hopefully, we can take care of business and the kids recognize that records don't matter anymore because it's one and done."
Postseason success evaded Burlington Central the last two seasons.
Central finished 26-4 each year but has no playoff hardware to show for it, thanks to Glenbard South. The Raiders eliminated the Rockets in consecutive regional finals with fourth-quarter comebacks.
Those teams find themselves in different regionals within the Woodstock North sectional this time around. Central (25-3) is the top seed at the Aurora Central Catholic regional while Glenbard South (11-15) is assigned to the St. Francis regional.
Led by program all-time leading scorer Zach Schutta (18.4 ppg) and 6-4 junior Patrick Mayfield (16.5 ppg), the Rockets yearn to win the school's first regional title in 10 years regardless of who stands in their way.
"It means a lot to these guys," said ninth-year coach Central coach Brett Porto said. "They've worked really hard and a lot of them are three, four-year guys and they grind it out. There are a lot of people invested. We've been preparing for that all year, so we want to go out and play our game one day at a time."
The Rockets open play Tuesday against the winner of Monday's play-in between No. 7 Kaneland (10-18) and No. 10 IMSA (9-13).
Monday's second play-in game features No. 6 Aurora Central Catholic (10-15) against No. 11 Sycamore (5-21). The winner plays No. 4 Montini (16-10) on Wednesday for a berth in Friday's title game.
Senior Kyle Czerak leads ACC with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals per game despite schemes specifically designed to stop him.
"We're happy to be hosting it," ACC coach Nate Drye said. "We have a tough matchup with Sycamore to start off and are just hoping to be prepared for them. Hoping maybe we can get hot and do some damage."