Potomac Falls Coach Jeff Hawes likes to point to senior forward Adam Hendricks as the poster child for his basketball program. As a four-year varsity player, Hendricks has been involved, in varying degrees, with the Panthers' emergence as the best in Loudoun County.
Hendricks scored a game-high 13 points in a 47-40 Dulles District victory at Park View on Thursday night. Potomac Falls (16-3, 10-0) has tied its single-season record for victories, set 1999-2000, and has three games left this week to end the regular season.
Since Hendricks arrived, the Panthers have been the winningest program in the county. They are 61-31 since the start of the 1999-2000 season with 12 more victories than any other team over that span.
Moreover, Potomac Falls is the only program with a winning record in each of those seasons. If Loudoun Valley (7-12) does not win three more games this season, Potomac Falls will be the only area team that has won at least 10 games in each of those seasons.
Hendricks has not been the kind of prodigy who can carry a program from obscurity to prominence. Although he says basketball is his favorite sport, he will most likely run track in college, if he decides to participate in a sport at all.
Yet Hendricks is emblematic of how the Panthers do not depend on star quality for success. Their best moments over the years have come when little is expected because, on face value, they have not had overwhelming individual talent.
"This year certainly isn't the most talented for this program," Hendricks said, "but I think that shows how good and deep this program is."
Hawes said his players "just know how to win. The five seniors [this year] are not the greatest basketball players, but I always know I can count on someone."
Potomac Falls led Park View, 30-17, early in the third quarter before going more than 10 minutes with only one field goal as the Patriots took a 37-35 lead. But Potomac Falls scored the next seven points and ended the game on a 12-3 run. Four Panthers scored in that stretch, and they played terrific defense, the program's calling card.
Youth basketball programs in the county sometimes lack the intensity and involvement of their soccer and softball counterparts. But Hawes actively follows youth league play at River Bend Middle School, attending games every weekend to watch future Potomac Falls students play.
"My dream is there's younger kids around who, when they are in sixth grade, want to think about playing varsity" at Potomac Falls, Hawes said. "The winning we've done over the last couple of years has certainly helped bring that about."
Broad Run Coach Larry Boomer, who took over in 1992 and is the area's longest-tenured head coach, said Potomac Falls has benefited in recent years from not having its student body changed because a new school has opened. That has given Hawes a stable area from which he can attract players.
"Any coach you talk to, he wants to build consistency in his program," said Boomer, whose school has been affected by the openings of Potomac Falls, Stone Bridge and Heritage in the past six years.
"You can do it in several ways. You can start with a strong freshman and JV program, but you also have to be lucky and don't lose kids to other schools. If you can get into a situation where you get stability and your boundaries don't change, you can get them to believe in your system."
In addition, basketball has become a year-round sport for the Panthers. Even if they do play other sports, they find a way to keep from getting rusty with basketball. Two summer camps help to prevent that. One is the Panther Camp, run by Hawes, who says it attracts its maximum 160 participants each summer.
The other is the week-long Canfield Camp in Dyke, Va., which Hawes learned of through his former coach at Broad Run, Joe Cochran, also former coach at Stuarts Draft. Each summer, Hawes takes about 50 to 60 sixth- through 12th-graders there.
Last summer, Potomac Falls won all 10 of its games to take the tournament at the Canfield Camp. But victories are the least of the benefits gained from the camp.
"It gets you used to kids who you're going to be playing with," said senior forward Mike Gitzen, who hopes to play baseball in college yet said he would not miss attending the camp. "That's so important. It molds you as a team."
Hawes found Hendricks when he was in seventh grade and has made him a regular participant at the summer camps.
"He goes and gets guys young, kind of like I was," Hendricks said. "Then he gets them to work up through the program. . . . [Other schools] don't seem to have the structure or even the work ethic and practice ethic that we do."