Saturday, March 29, 2008

College Basketball/Augusta State

College Basketball
A Pipeline From Northern Virginia
Augusta State of Georgia Reaches Division II Title Game Loaded With Area Talent

By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, March 29, 2008; E12

Daniel Dixon is the kind of player around whom Augusta State Coach Darren "Dip" Metress has built his program.

In high school, Dixon, a 5-foot-9, 150-pound, speedy point guard, led Marshall to the 2006 Virginia AAA state semifinals. Yet he struggled to catch the eye of college recruiters.

"The little guy [Dixon] could play, but because of his size, nobody offered him a D-I scholarship," said Red Jenkins, who coached both Metress and Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker at Fairfax's W.T. Woodson High School in the mid-1980s. "I even talked to Tommy Amaker about [Dixon], when Tommy was at Michigan."

"Dip's got a great eye for talent," said Dixon's high school coach, Kevin Weeren. "He was really the only one who was interested in Daniel."

Dixon and four other talented Northern Virginia products similarly overlooked by Division I recruiters will lead Augusta State (27-6) into the NCAA Division II championship today against Winona State (37-1) in Springfield, Mass.

Augusta State of Georgia, ranked 10th in the Division II coaches' poll, will look to end No. 3 Winona State's 31-game winning streak; the Minnesota power has set the NCAA Division II single-season record for wins. Winona State won the 2006 Division II title and lost in last year's championship game.

Augusta State is led by Georgia product Tyrekus Bowman (19.6 points per game), but "four of our top eight players are kids from Northern Virginia," Metress said.

Dixon (Marshall), Steve Smith (Edison), Demetrius Howard (Gar-Field) and Caleb Brown (Forest Park) account for 30 percent of the Jaguars' offense. Tye Beal (Wakefield) is redshirting this season.

"We are really far away from home, but we are a really tight family," said Smith, who has started 31 games this season. "Even the Georgia boys have started talking like us."

Howard is averaging 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds while Brown is the team's most accurate three-point shooter (41.9 percent) and Dixon leads the Jaguars in assists (115).

Metress "is from Northern Virginia, so I guess he kind of sees himself in us a little bit because he's played in the leagues that we've played in," Dixon said. "There's kids up there [in Northern Virginia] that work hard and he's willing to give those kids a chance."

Metress was keenly aware of the talent in the area.

"I've been a head coach for 12 years and my first year getting a head coaching job, I knew I was going to recruit the D.C. area," said Metress, 41, who used a similar Northern Virginia-centric recruiting strategy to post a 134-93 record in eight seasons at his alma mater, Division II Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina.

Metress has taken Augusta State from an 11-win season in 2004 to an 85-37 record over the past four years and back-to-back NCAA Division II tournament berths.

He relies on his extensive contacts in the Northern Virginia area, such as T.C. Williams Coach Ivan Thomas, who coached Smith at Edison. He finds the "Division I kids that are being overlooked in our Northern Virginia area or people are scared to pull the trigger on them," Thomas said.

Another contact is his brother, Lake Braddock Coach Brian Metress, who lifted Hayfield High to Virginia AAA Northern Region titles in 1997 and 2000 and has more than 300 career victories.

"He has an eye in Northern Virginia because of his brother . . . giving him a few words," said Dixon, who caught Brian Metress's eye during a preseason camp at American University in 2005. "I think that's the reason I'm at Augusta State."

Howard, a 6-5 senior, "had a real high basketball I.Q.," Gar-Field Coach Andy Gray said. "He was a great system guy, not a high-flyer or a great scorer; he was just a really good system guy on a good team."

Dip Metress takes well-coached Northern Virginia products and "molds them together and gets them to play hard," Thomas said. "They may not have the raw athleticism. All you have to do is teach them your system."

Metress has also capitalized on Virginia's lack of Division II programs, plucking those players that have missed the Division I cut but still are searching for a higher level than what the Washington area's Division III programs can offer.

"If you are a pretty good player and people say, 'He's not really a Division I kid, he can't go to Maryland,' where else are you going to go?" Brian Metress said.

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