Editor's note: ESPNHS is ESPNRISE.com's high school journalism program. Student reporters from across the country cover sports and athletes from their schools.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference hosts some of the most notable high school basketball powerhouses in the country, including DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) and Gonzaga, ranked 7th and 10th respectively, according to the ESPN Rise Fab 50.
Nearly every team in the WCAC conference is considered a top basketball school in the DC metro area, which creates plenty of rivalries between the teams.
When the high school season ends, many WCAC players join AAU teams for the summer. Sometimes the players stick with their teammates, like Gonzaga College High School seniors Malcolm Lemmons, Cedrick Lindsay and Tyler Thornton, who play for the DC Assault 17U squad.
"We all get along great both on and off the court," Lemmons said. "Playing together during the summer helps us bond."
The chemistry the three players had during the past season seemed to pay off, as Gonzaga finished the 2008-09 season with a 29-5 record. Gonzaga also has a pair of players with Team Takeover this summer: senior Cahli Thomas and junior Kevin Hogan.
"Their bond, it really does show on the court," said Gonzaga head coach Steve Turner. "Any time our guys have a chance to play together, I'm all for it."
St. John's College High School junior guard Chris Martin plays with teammate Ryan McNeill on the DC Assault 16U team.
"The experience is a great one for both of us," Martin said. "It makes us closer, like brothers."
Many players will also follow their high school coaches to an AAU team . One example of this is the DC Assault's 16U squad. Wes Robinson, a junior at Bishop O'Connell who is expected to make the jump from JV to varsity this winter, followed two of O'Connell's varsity assistant coaches, Mike Pegues and Paul Easton, to DC Assault.
"It was eye-opening coaching Wes," Pegues said. "I had the opportunity to work with him and identify his areas of improvement. It also gave me the chance to see how he would fare against stiffer competition."
Pegues has since accepted a position as the video coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University.
WCAC rivals are also forming bonds during AAU ball. Many players find themselves teammates with players from rival schools.
Quinn Cook, a standout member of the U16 Team USA squad and one of DeMatha's star players, is surrounded by WCAC rivals as a member of the DC Assault 16U squad.
Nevertheless, Cook sees it as a good way to get to know fellow players from the area.
"It's really fun because we are all competitive," the junior says. "We are always making jokes about each other's respective schools."
Randy Echols, a junior at Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) and a member of the 16U squad for Triple Threat, says playing with WCAC players during the summer gives him and his team a competitive edge.
"Playing with guys that attend a WCAC school is a great thing. Because our league is so competitive, [WCAC] players know the kind of tenacity, aggression, determination, and heart necessary to win."
No matter what team they play for during the AAU season, WCAC players stick together. In May, the DC Assault 17U got into a friendly argument at breakfast. DeMatha senior David Naves and Kendal Smith of Thomas Stone (Waldorf, Md.), a non-WCAC school, debated whose school was better. After Smith, a senior, made his case, Naves simply said "WCAC."
Lemmons, who was sitting next to Naves and Smith, immediately agreed with Naves, adding that the WCAC faced more intense competition than any other conference in the area.
Overall, a quote from Jan Cook, Quinn Cook's mother, sums up the WCAC players' relationships during the high school and AAU seasons.
"During the winter, we are rivals. During the summer, it's the WCAC family."