In a good year, Prince William County produces at best maybe a handful of Division I basketball players, most of whom head off to play for programs that have mothballed their gear come NCAA tournament time.
That's not to take away from their achievement of earning scholarships. It's just that from a basketball standpoint, once they're gone, you're unlikely to channel-surf across them or overhear their name on a highlight show.
That probably will not be the case with the Class of 2006. Three seniors -- Potomac guard Eric Hayes (Maryland) and Forest Park guards Monica Wright (Virginia) and Ashleigh Braxton (Pittsburgh) -- have committed to Division I programs in major conferences. Hayes and Wright will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Braxton in the Big East.
Hayes, an All-Met last season after averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 assists, 5 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 1.7 blocks, grew up rooting for Maryland, where his paternal grandfather and great uncle went to school.
Before trying to crack the Terrapins lineup, he will try to lead Potomac to a fifth straight Virginia AAA state tournament. He has the chance to graduate as the Panthers' all-time leading scorer.
Area coaches will be happy to see the 6-foot-3 Hayes leave, although they marvel at his fundamentally sound game.
"Between the lines, he's a genius," Gar-Field Coach Andy Gray said. "He has a great understanding of what's going on on the floor. He knows who's open, how to get the ball to them, when to get the ball to them. A kid like that just elevates everybody else around him."
The 5-foot-11 Wright, a two-time All-Met, averaged 18.9 points, 12 rebounds and 6.8 assists last season and was the Associated Press player of the year in Virginia AAA. She helped lead the Bruins to the 2004 state championship, and another state title game appearance in 2005.
Wright, too, has gained respect from opponents, as much for her maturity as for her play.
"Her attitude, how she approaches things, I think is different from everybody else, from all the other kids," said Woodbridge Coach George Washington, who had Wright on his middle school AAU team. "Monica saw the big picture before everybody else. I don't know if that's because of mom and dad or what, but she's a great kid, she's a smart kid and she's an intelligent kid.
"She's probably the most athletic player I've seen since here I've been here, without a doubt. She can run, jump and everything else faster, higher and everything else than anybody else that I've seen here. She has that competitive nature that I don't think that you can teach. If you beat her, you're going to earn it."
Washington, who also coached Braxton on that AAU team, considers Braxton the Scottie Pippen to Wright's Michael Jordan. The 5-foot-11 Braxton, a second-team all-state pick last year, averaged 11.6 points, 7 rebounds and 7.2 assists and made 46 three-pointers. She can play both guard positions.
"Ashleigh is as smart as a whip," Washington said. "She's really, really intelligent on the court. I think they build up each other, and Ashleigh knows to defer to Monica when necessary, and Monica will defer to her, too."