When Christy Winters was 10 and playing basketball in the Reston Youth League, the referee once stopped a game 10 times to whistle her for a walking violation.
Winters remembers it clearly. She says she went home and practiced putting the ball down ahead of her first step 100 times.
"I did it until it was too dark to see," Winters says.
Winters, now 17, has long since left behind the difficulty she once had. What she has retained is the incredible drive that helped her surmount it.
It's the drive that explains why Winters, a 6-foot-1 1/2-inch senior at South Lakes High School in Reston, is one of the top female high school basketball players in the country and why she may be the most sought after basketball player, male or female, in the Washington area this year.
"That's it," said Jim Lewis, the women's basketball coach at George Mason University who watched her play when he coached the boys team at South Lakes. "She's put in the time and effort. She has great work habits. And it's paid off. Her skills are finely tuned."
Lewis is just one of 150 college coaches who are battling to recruit Winters. Despite the fact that her senior season is not yet half over, she receives phone calls every night from coaches asking how she is doing in school and how things are going on the basketball court. A few dozen have visited her home.
"They're all interested," Winters says. "Mostly they say they just want to touch base."
The local Division I coaches who are recruiting Winters don't have to call to touch base. "We've all watched her develop over the years," said Georgetown University women's coach, Cheryl Thompson.
While the local coaches all seem to have a special tie to Winters, Lewis' tie is most interesting. He is Winters' uncle.
"He keeps a low profile as far as recruiting," said Janice Winters, Christy's mother and Lewis' sister, "although his desire has been as great." Said Lewis: "Christy and I talked when I first got the job about how I'd always be her uncle first, regardless of whether she plays for me. Now, we're involved with recruiting her because of the potential of this program and the proximity to her home."
At nearby George Washington, Coach Denise Fiore coached Winters and a local AAU team last summer to within one point of a national championship. Although the Vogues of Virginia team lost to the Tennessee All-Stars in overtime in the final, Winters was named the tournament's most valuable player.
The tournament left Fiore and Winters with a close coach-player relationship. When the championship was over, Fiore and Winters, physically and psychologically drained, embraced at midcourt, tears running down their faces.
At Georgetown, Thompson might also seem to have a recruiting advantage. " Georgetown guard Michael Jackson has always been an idol of mine on the basketball court," Winters said. "He attended South Lakes and he's really achieved some nice things because of his basketball skills."
Then there are the universities of Maryland and Virginia, both national powers in basketball. Winters attended summer basketball camp at Maryland, and U.Va. holds a special attraction for many living in Virginia.
Georgia, Southern California, Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Tennessee, all of national stature in women's basketball, are also interested in Winters.
She might have guessed that her statistics alone would attract them. She has played four years on the South Lakes varsity. Since she was a freshman she has averaged more than 10 points per game. In her junior year she averaged 17.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. This season she is averaging 23.3 points and 14 rebounds. She says her grades are average.
Still, for all the recruiting pressure and all the hard work on the court, Winters appears to be a normal teen-ager.
She dresses in black Gucci sweat shirts and three-quarter-length designer jeans. Being 6-1 1/2 has also helped her pursue another interest -- fashion. "I think Christy's got a real flair for it," said Janice Winters. Christy has modeled clothing at Fair Oaks Mall and thinks someday she may use a business degree to enter the business side, if not the modeling side, of the clothing industry.
Winters is poised when she appears publicly in front of a group -- she says she gets that from her father -- and she is aware that her height might once have been a social obstacle. "I'm glad I'm 6-1 1/2 in 1985 and not 1965," she says. "The game wasn't as developed. I think I would have been an outcast."
Winters also says she has to deal with conflicts of modern teen-age life -- attending parties where smoking and drinking are the norm, but resisting the temptation.
It is the recruiting, however, that weighs most heavily on her mind now. She must narrow the field to five schools, the number of colleges she is officially allowed to visit at the schools' expense under National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. "Everyone is saying the same thing," Winters said. "It's hard to tell which school is different or better. It's not pressure so much as confusion."
A tightly knit family has helped her maintain perspective. Her father, the Rev. Ronald Winters Sr., is pastor to a congregation of 500 at the Shiloh Baptist Church in McLean. Her mother teaches children with learning disabilities in Fairfax County. Her brother Ron is a freshman at Norfolk State.
Back in November, there were letters of intent on her bureau. "She decided not to bow to pressure," her mother said. "She wanted to see the teams in action."
Until she decides, "It's going to be a heck of a recruiting battle," said Georgetown's Cheryl Thompson. "But we're going to be right there to the end. We have a scholarship sitting right here on my desk with her name on it."