While Dixon boys basketball coach Jason Mead swept the floor before Tuesday's practice, there was an encouraging sign around him.
It was the constant sound of bouncing basketballs. Six baskets were in use, and by more than just a handful of players. There are 28 players in the program, up from just 13 a year ago.
"The numbers are increasing, the kids are enjoying themselves more and they're having more fun," Mead said.
That's a positive sign for a program that has nowhere to go but up after a 1-27 campaign in 2011-12, including its second straight 0-10 mark in the Northern Illinois Big 12 West. Mead is hopeful the Dukes will be able to take the lessons learned from all those losses and channel them into something positive.
"Last year was an interesting year," Mead said. "We got through it and we competed hard in every game, but I think the learning from last year is going to help us in the long run."
One thing in the Dukes' favor heading into this season is they had a conventional offseason, unlike last summer. Mead wasn't hired until June of 2011, too late to implement a summer program to his liking. He had just three boys who committed full-time, and the results showed.
This past summer, about 15 boys were on board full-time. They competed in a league at Westwood, went to the University of Illinois team camp and were regulars at open gym sessions.
"We have a core group of guys here who are all doing things the right way," sophomore guard Cal Jarrett said. "This summer, we went about .500 in the games that we played. People saw that we can do good if we all work together and work hard all of the time."
"This summer was really fun," junior guard Austin Thomas added. "There were a lot of guys who were committed to improving their games."
Mead noted a year ago, players who did not attend the Dixon summer basketball camp were still allowed to participate in Westwood league games, because of a lack of bodies. This year, players who didn't attend camp were not allowed to play in league games.
"We had really good participation in our summer programs, especially from our freshmen and our sophomores," Mead said. "We're really low on upperclassmen again, but our freshmen and sophomores are really buying in. The stuff we're doing at the middle school is getting us on the same page when they come into high school."
Dixon will have just five upperclassmen on the varsity roster, putting them at a disadvantage against experienced, more physically mature teams. Defense and rebounding will be even more of a premium for the Dukes this season, according to sophomore guard Laron Carr.
"We've got to keep teams under a certain amount of points to have a chance to win," Carr said.
Coach: Jason Mead (2nd year, 1-27)
2011: 1-27 (0-10 Northern Illinois Big 12 West)
Advancement: Lost in 3A Dixon Regional quarterfinal 32-21 to Geneseo
Key losses: Scott Goad, G; Josh Emmole, G; Jessie McKinley, F
Key returnees: Cal Jarrett, so., G; Matt Coffey, so., G; Austin Thomas, jr., G
Opener: at Rock Falls, 7:30 Monday