Ryan Hellenthal finally saw all of the prodding, pleading and teaching pay off.
Better late than never.
The Quincy University men's basketball team won two of its final three regular-season games because of sheer will and effort, outlasting Illinois-Springfield 82-79 on the road and capping Hellenthal's first season as head coach with a 127-120 overtime victory against McKendree.
"It's really rewarding as a coach when you poke the elephant all year and try to get them to understand how hard you have to play to be successful in this league," Hellenthal said. "It's like a light went off, and they finished it the right way."
Playing that way now needs to be the only way.
The Hawks head into the offseason with some very specific goals in mind in recruiting and in personal development. Getting stronger applies to both.
Quincy graduates just one senior -- guard Bobby Frasco -- but could see some players choose to leave. The health of sophomore guard Robert DeVries, who underwent surgery on one ankle and has another surgery upcoming on the other ankle, and junior guard DeAndre Alexander, who suffered torn knee ligaments in mid-January, also are factors on how the Hawks recruit.
Regardless of how much scholarship money the Hawks have to spend, it doesn't change the wishlist.
Size is of the utmost importance.
In the 15-team Great Lakes Valley Conference, the Hawks ranked 10th in rebounding margin, 11th in field-goal percentage defense and 12th in field goal shooting. It shows a stronger presence inside is needed.
The Hawks primarily rotated three forwards inside -- juniors Marcus Hinton and Marsalis Johnson and redshirt freshman Tanner Stuckman. Johnson is the only true post player in the group, but at 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, he doesn't have the bulk to pound against some of the better big men in the GLVC.
Hinton led the Hawks in rebounding with eight boards per game and was second in scoring at 13.6 points per game, but he's better as a swingman than as a post player. Stuckman has made considerable strides, but he's most comfortable facing the basket and needs to continue to get stronger so he doesn't get pushed off the block.
A bruiser who can finish at the rim, clear the glass and control the paint is what the Hawks need.
"It's what everyone wants," Hellenthal said. "Finding them is the challenge."
The Hawks can offer the chance to play alongside quality pieces in the backcourt.
Demetrius Houston, a junior who transferred from North Central Missouri College, led the Hawks in scoring at 14.5 points per game and got better as the season wore on at finding his shot and developing rhythm in the offense. The addition of junior college transfer Jah-Kobe Womack, who redshirted this winter, gives QU another dynamic scorer.
And Ryan Briscoe thrived as the point guard in his first season at the helm. A redshirt freshman who hardly practiced a year ago as he recovered from a torn labrum, Briscoe averaged 10 points and 4.3 rebounds with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
What the Hawks didn't have was a capable ball-handler when Briscoe was out. Houston tried, but he had more turnovers (79) than assists (75) and obviously is more comfortable as a shooter and slasher.
That's why adding depth in the backcourt is critical. The QU coaching staff has been a fixture at Quincy High School games this winter in hopes of landing Blue Devils point guard Aaron Shoot, who hasn't made any decisions whether he will play in college or just concentrate on academics.
QU's presence has been undeniable and Shoot is clearly a top target. It would be a recruiting coup to land him.
There are other targets locally and regionally who could help the Hawks in the future.
John Wood Community College has a couple. Hannibal might have one. Others will develop into potential Division II prospects.
What each recruit has to remember is slacking won't be tolerated.
This year's team eventually figured it out and it brought out it the best in them. And they believe even better days lie ahead.
"It's just building blocks for next year," Frasco said. "Figuring out a way to get it done is just a building block that will move this program forward. Coach Hellenthal is going to be a great coach and this is going to be a great program.
"Seeing what happened here at the end is just the start. It's just the start of something great."