Turn on the television and watch a women's college basketball game, and chances are a former Beltway Lady Cougar will be playing in the game. Or at least that is what Eugene Couser, the executive director of the Beltway Lady Cougars, an Amateur Athletic Union girls basketball program, likes to say.
The Beltway Lady Cougars organization encompasses 16 teams in eight age groups and more than 200 girls.
Nearly all of Prince George's County's top players spend their offseasons in Lady Cougars uniforms, playing approximately 60 games--the equivalent of three high school seasons--and traveling up and down the East Coast.
Every player on last year's 17-and-under team is playing college basketball, according to Couser. Most of the players on the 16-and-under team already have signed with Division I schools, including Largo's Candace Sutton (North Carolina), Elizabeth Seton's Katrina Martin (Drexel), DuVal's Vernessa Neamo (George Mason) and Riverdale Baptist's Joi Jefferson (Northeastern).
"What we try to do is provide the girls with the fundamentals and skills needed to participate at the next level," Couser said.
"We're all high school coaches, and people who are dedicated to helping youngsters."
Helping young players includes establishing a Scholastic Assessment Test workshop to help players prepare for the test. Couser, who oversees the organization's daily operations, has been the girls varsity basketball coach at Central High School for five years. Other county coaches, such as DuVal's Walter Clark, Bladensburg's Lester Butler and Largo's Bob Blair, have been or are currently involved with coaching Lady Cougars teams.
Women's basketball is booming, both in the NCAA and the WNBA. AAU teams are a way for talented players to get exposure to college scouts, while at the same time improving their skills by playing against tough competition.
"In this area, competition is so great, and the college scouts coming in know that this is a hotbed for girls basketball," Couser said.
"We attract some of the better players because it's known that our kids go to college."
CAPTION: Central girls basketball coach Eugene Couser doubles as the executive director of the Beltway Lady Cougars, an organization that has 16 teams and over 200 players in eight age groups. Nearly all of the county's top players spend their offseasons playing in the AAU program.