Due to production errors, some information was incomplete or missing in Sunday's Prince William Extra 1999-2000 High School Basketball Preview: * In a graphic on Page 6, the girls team records for Prince William County's four western end schools were incomplete. During the '90s, Gar-Field was 232-27, Hylton 95-82, Potomac 47-146 and Woodbridge 176-72. * On Page 7, some type was dropped from the story headlined "Imbalance of Power." A paragraph should have read: Coaching stability might factor in to the eastern end dominance. There has been little recent coaching turnover in four of the most successful Prince William County basketball programs: Potomac's Hayes is in his 15th season; Woodbridge's Robinson is in his 12th and Gar-Field boys coach Andy Gray is in his seventh. Fred Milbert stepped down earlier this year after coaching the Gar-Field girls for 15 seasons. (Published 12/08/1999)
Woodbridge girls basketball Coach George Washington used to drive almost daily from the eastern end of Prince William County, where he lives, to the western end. And no matter the route, it seemed to him that the Manassas neighborhoods he passed through did not have as many basketball hoops as the neighborhoods around his Dumfries home.
"It was funny," said Washington, who last season guided his team to the Virginia AAA state semifinals. "There were a few courts out there, but here it seems like at every house there's a basketball court, or you can see [a backboard] to roll out into the driveway. I just didn't see that over there."
For years, the road to Prince William basketball success has started and ended in Woodbridge, Dale City or Dumfries--eastern Prince William locales. In the 1990s, the eastern-end schools--Gar-Field, Hylton, Potomac and Woodbridge--made 43 appearances in the Northwestern Region boys or girls basketball tournament. The western-end schools--Osbourn, Osbourn Park and Stonewall Jackson--made one, in 1989-90, when the Stonewall girls cracked the regional field. (Osbourn did not become an AAA school until the 1996-97 season.)
Stonewall's boys made some positive strides last year [see story, back cover], but recent history has not been kind to the western schools. In the past five seasons, the easterners have gone 102-13 against their western counterparts in boys basketball and 92-20 in girls basketball.
Why such disparity? Washington's driveway theory is as good a place as any to start. Some coaches believe basketball is simply more popular in the Woodbridge area than it is in Manassas.
"Maybe it's where they grow up," said first-year Hylton boys Coach Dan Kearney, a Potomac assistant the past nine seasons. "The kids in the eastern end are sort of like the United States compared to the rest of the world in basketball. They just play more of it."
First-year Osbourn Park girls Coach Sonya Smith believes families moving to the growing county notice such things.
"When parents move in, they look at the school if their child is a good basketball player," Smith said. "They want to find out whether the team's been successful. They want the child to go to the best school. So you get better players at the better schools."
In addition, some believe the eastern end offers more youth basketball organizations and better facilities, which can translate into greater participation and instruction.
"There's just so much to offer down on that end," said Potomac assistant Bobby Lake, who also has coached at Brentsville and Osbourn.
The eastern end tends to boast superior AAU teams. Potomac boys Coach Kendall Hayes, who coaches his son's AAU team, does not recall losing to a Manassas AAU team in the same age group. That track record has carried over into the high school season as well. The past five years, his Panthers are 26-2 against Osbourn, Osbourn Park and Stonewall.
"If you have kids who play a whole lot at 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, as long as they continue to play and work, when they get to be 15, 16, 17, you'll have a pretty good program," Hayes said. "The majority of good players we have in this county have played AAU basketball. That may be a key."
Osbourn Park's Smith agrees.
"Any kid who wants to play can go out and play, but on that end they have the elite teams and summer camps and work with kids all the time," Smith said. "They were taught the proper ways to do things. They were taught attitude, confidence and consistency. Children don't learn to walk by themselves. They have to be taught. They don't learn to talk by themselves, they have to be taught. The western end of the county needs people to come out and push them in the right direction."
The Big School Theory
School size is perhaps the most common theory offered regarding the eastern domination of boys and girls basketball. The Woodbridge area schools, for the most part, are larger than the Manassas schools. According to figures the Virginia High School League uses to determine its A, AA and AAA classifications, Woodbridge (2,340), Gar-Field (1,957) and Hylton (1,905) are three of the nine largest schools in the state.
"Look at the enrollment," said Osbourn boys Coach Mike Dufrene, whose school has the smallest student population (1,306) in the seven-school Cardinal District. "They have a lot more kids in the student body to choose from. With 1,000 more kids to choose from, you'll find one or two better players."
The school size argument does not explain Potomac, which has 1,468 students, fewer than Stonewall Jackson (1,650) and Osbourn Park (1,498). The Panthers boys basketball team made four state tournament appearances this decade.
And, as Woodbridge boys Coach Will Robinson argues, it is not as if his school and others in his area continually churn out big-time college players.
"In Prince William, how many 6-7 basketball players do you see?" Robinson said. "You can count them on one hand and break two fingers. Woodbridge is the [second-largest] school in Virginia. How many major college prospects have we had? None."
Stonewall boys Coach Dave Huckestein, a former Woodbridge assistant who last year in his first season led the Raiders to a 12-11 record and third-place Cardinal District finish, plugged his ears to the school size chatter after he took the job. He pointed to the Stonewall athletic programs that were as good or better than their eastern end counterparts.
"No one says anything about the wrestling team or the softball team," said Huckestein, who certainly could not buy into the school size argument when his team lost to Manassas private school Seton (enrollment 360) last season. "That's what drove me nuts."
Still, to some Manassas athletes, the student enrollment argument is so ingrained that it is perceived to be greater than it really is.
"Hylton, to me, is like putting Osbourn, Osbourn Park and Stonewall together," said Osbourn senior guard Jon Latimer. "If those three schools were put together, we'd be pretty good, too. Some kids just say what's the use because they know it's tough playing for a school like Osbourn, OP or Stonewall because of the number of students. Kids at Hylton and Gar-Field probably go out because they know they'll be successful."
But Latimer added that playing larger schools only provides his team with a greater incentive to win. Last year the Eagles lost by just two points to Woodbridge and by four to Gar-Field.
"We're never psyched out," Latimer said. "Those are the games we love to play."
Consistency in Coaching
Coaching stability might factor in to the eastern-end dominance. There has been little recent coaching turnover in four of the most successful Prince William County basketball programs: Potomac's Hayes is in his 15th season; Woodbridge's Robinson is in his 12th and Gar-Field boys stepped down earlier this year after coaching the Gar-Field girls for 15 seasons.
All four coaches devote much of their offseason time to basketball, whether it be coaching AAU teams, running clinics and summer and fall leagues or steering their players toward camps. Many coaches also try to be visible at games involving their feeder schools.
"I think the coaches at that end of the county get more into the summer leagues or fall leagues," said Melissa DelSignore, a guard on the Osbourn Park girls team. "I've heard students from there say if they want to play during the regular season, they better play fall ball."
"I demand that my kids play AAU so they get the experience of playing all the time," said second-year Hylton girls Coach Melvin Smith, whose team won three games last season. "Playing all the time is what the other kids do, and it's what we need to do, too. If you just show up for the season, you're not going to be prepared."
The boys teams chasing Potomac, Woodbridge and Gar-Field have made coaching changes the past two years. Osbourn, Osbourn Park and Stonewall Jackson have second-year coaches and Hylton has a first-year coach.
"I can't count the number of coaches who have been at each of those [western end] schools while I was in one place for 15 years," Milbert said. "A lot of [success] relates back to leadership, and what that leadership is doing--the consistency, the involvement."
Potomac girls Coach Mike Adkins agrees that tenure matters. Three years ago Adkins inherited a program that had won six games in five years. Potomac, with 9-13 and 13-9 seasons the past two years, has now emerged as a district contender to challenge Gar-Field and Woodbridge.
"This is my first year where I've had a group of seniors who can tell the other kids what my program's about," said Adkins, who has sat in on many of Hayes's practices scrounging for drills and plays he can use for his own team. "They can go back to the freshmen, sophomores and juniors and say, 'This is what coach expects.' "
The basketball programs that have won for years seem to benefit greatly from that kind of tradition. On some teams, the competition for roster spots and playing time is so fierce that the players cannot help but improve.
"Once you do make it, you have to earn your play every day in practice," Hylton's Kearney said. "Bill Brown's [Hylton] football program is successful because if the starters don't push themselves, there's someone just waiting for them to mess up and take their spot. It was the same thing for us in basketball at Potomac. If you only have five kids [who are standout basketball players], who's pushing those five?"
Winning Is Believing
The most successful of the area's new coaches have come from eastern end staffs. Adkins was a Woodbridge boys and girls assistant; Huckestein was a Woodbridge boys assistant. Of the new coaches for this season, Kearney coached under Hayes and Gar-Field girls Coach Larry Baker coached under Milbert.
Other than Huckestein, the Manassas area schools have hired coaches with Manassas ties. Dufrene played at Osbourn. New Osbourn girls Coach Barry Sudduth last coached the Osbourn boys. Osbourn Park boys Coach Eugene Baltimore played at Manassas Park. Osbourn Park's Smith last coached at Brentsville. Stonewall girls Coach Ira DeGrood, who also coaches the Raiders' softball team, is a Stonewall graduate.
Dufrene's teams at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg went 94-73 and made a state tournament appearance. Osbourn Park's Baltimore guided Virginia A school Rappahannock to three consecutive winning seasons before he joined the Yellow Jackets. So they have been successful head coaches. But after just one year on the job at their current schools, they are finding it difficult to reverse more than a decade's worth of losses to eastern end opponents.
"If you get kids coming up believing they aren't going to lose, they have that attitude," Baltimore said. "If the players aren't winning, you're fighting a battle to convince them they can win.
"It's, 'We're playing Potomac, oh my goodness, instead of, 'Let's go get 'em.' "
East Beats West
Location is seemingly everything in Prince William basketball in the 1990s. While the AAA schools in the east have piled up wins, their counterparts in the west have mostly struggled to achieve mediocrity.
RECORDS ARE OVERALL SINCE 1989-90 SEASON
Osbourn* 24-40 26-38
Osbourn Park 55-158 74-135
Stonewall 77-14 135-165
*AAA since 1996-97
Garfield 157-73 232-27
Hylton* 75-94 95-82
Potomac 203-52 47-146
Woodbridge 195-55 176-72
*School opened in 1991