When speaking of his star player Tracey Earley, Magruder girls basketball Coach Dennis Love uses terms of admiration usually reserved for visiting dignitaries and chiefs of state. Although he usually is mild-mannered and calm, even during the course of a close Montgomery Class B game, Love's demeanor comes alive when the topic is Earley, the Colonels' 5-foot-10 bundle of talent and team leadership.
Earley shoots, rebounds, steals passes, finds open players for easy baskets and directs the floor like few others. In short, she dominates.
And she's highly likable, a person who records the team's warm-up music tape and also stars on the soccer and field hockey teams.
"She is so balanced emotionally. A lot of times when you have players that good, they become head cases, but she is a terrific team player," said Love, Magruder's fourth-year coach. "I like to keep her point average up, but (when I ask her) she will give up the opportunity to score to get the ball to another girl.
"Her parents have done a heck of a job," Love said, "for that girl to have as much judgment and sense when faced with all that praise and glory."
The praise for Earley's talents began early in her freshman season at Magruder, where she became a starter almost immediately on a team with no seniors and one junior. But the steady praise didn't really begin until her sophomore year, when the Colonels improved to 12-10 and qualified for the county playoffs.
"The team as a whole is aggressive," said Earley, who scores most of her points with physical play under the basket. "And we have gotten more aggressive as we've reached our peak."
Magruder is seemingly just reaching its peak. The Colonels went 17-5 last season before meeting Woodward -- a team it had already beaten twice -- in the second round of the playoffs. Magruder lost, but this year the Colonels are 19-3, ranked No. 12 in the area, and again qualified for postseason play.
Earley attributes much of her aggressiveness to her basketball background, dating to the third grade, in which she was the only girl on a coed youth team. The beginnings were humble, Earley said, but crucial to her development.
Since entering Magruder, she and Love have grown together, to the point that he now considers her an unofficial assistant coach during the team's practices.
"Tracey was willing to knock heads a little at first, but I saw her get intimidated against some of the other girls in her freshman year," Love said. "Of course, she was going against girls who were bigger and older (and with more experience)."
Earley backs off from no one now, whether dipping skillfully into the lane for easy layups or getting rebounds with a powerful presence.
"Her game is so flawless," Love said. "And she is the most coachable kid I have ever seen in my life . . . When I teach her something new, I can expect to see it in the next game."
Early is averaging 18 points, five assists and five steals a game, pushing her career scoring total over the 1,400-point mark.
She is sought after by many colleges, and has narrowed her choice to George Mason, George Washington, James Madison, Towson State and Georgetown, all of which she regards as much for their math and computer science programs as for their basketball teams.
And, like most players, Earley is brushing up on her skills in preparation of the college game, working on her dribbling and outside shooting, which are suspect, according to recruiters. But because of Magruder's balance offensively, Earley doesn't need to shoot much from outside, a task usually filled by junior guard Karin Vadelund (12 points a game) and senior Leslie Warren (10 points).
"It's not just me, it's everyone as a whole . . . together as a team," said Earley. "There's no pressure on me because we have a well-balanced team."