When Milford Mill's Qierra Murray and Indian Creek's Cydni Cole began considering where they might play college basketball, the best friends weren't thinking about going to the same program.
The All-Metro second-team guards — Amateur Athletic Union teammates since they were 13 years old — were being recruited by several colleges and wanted to explore their options. Then George Mason coach Nyla Milleson, who had been recruiting Cole, started looking at Murray, too.
For the first time, the girls pictured themselves as college teammates. They made a pact last May not to commit until July, wanting to take their time with the recruiting process.
That lasted until an unofficial visit to the George Mason campus in Fairfax, Va., a few weeks later.
"I was in [assistant coach Tajama Abraham Ngongba]'s office then, and coach T had this calendar on the wall," Murray said. "She was like, 'circle what day I can expect a call from you saying that you're going to commit.'
"It was like love at first sight once I saw the campus, and the coaching staff was really great, so I felt that was the place for me. I picked up a marker and circled that day."
A few minutes later, Cole heard the surprising news.
"I was like, 'What did you just do?'" she said with a laugh, "We weren't expecting to commit until after all the tournaments and after the AAU season, but Q didn't stick with the game plan."
Cole, who had also received an offer, walked out of the office to think for a few minutes. Then she committed, too.
For best friends to have the chance to play college basketball together is rare in this area, said Tony Gorham, coach of the girls' Maryland Pride AAU team.
"A lot of kids want to find their own identity by going someplace a little different," Gorham said. "But these two are such good friends and play so together on the basketball court that it was kind of a no-brainer for them."
Both girls started playing basketball at a young age. Cole, whose parents were high school basketball coaches, started at 4. Murray, whose grandmother, Diane Drake, officiates girls basketball in Baltimore, started at 6.
In eighth grade, they played on the same AAU team and, "something just clicked," said Murray. They've been like sisters ever since.
At George Mason, each found the right combination of athletics and academics. Murray, who has a 3.7 GPA and takes classes at CCBC-Catonsville, plans to become a doctor. Cole has a 3.0 GPA and is deciding between a career in sports medicine and law.
Cole and Murray said they felt comfortable at George Mason and liked the family feel of the program. They plan to room together, something they've done through years of AAU tournaments.
The girls should be even more comfortable next season, because they have also played with the other two girls in Milleson's first recruiting class. Casey Davis, from Elizabeth Seton in Bladensburg, also played for the Pride, and Tayler Dodson, from Virginia, is a former AAU teammate.
"They already have improved from past years," Cole said of the Patriots. "I think it's just going to be a plus when our 2014 class comes in. I think we can contribute, especially with our chemistry that's already there."
Milleson, in her first season at George Mason, said she has coached a few players as close as Murray and Cole while at Missouri State and Division II Drury.
"I think it helps," she said. "When you already have that bond and that type of chemistry, I think it translates to good things on the floor."
Murray and Cole will have a chance to compete immediately for playing time next season as the Patriots (6-13 this season) try to improve from 9-21 last winter and become a contender in the Atlantic-10 conference, where they debuted this season.
"I think they're going to fit in very well with us trying to change the culture of the program at George Mason, with their toughness and their competitiveness," Milleson said. "They know how to compete every single possession. Obviously, they're going to have to transition from high school to college, like everybody, with the pace of the game and all that, but I think they have some intangibles along with their basketball IQ that's really going to help us transition a little bit quicker."
On their high school teams, both girls are leaders. Milford Mill coach DeToiya McAliley and Indian Creek coach Jamie Cook consider them coaches on the floor.
Murray averages 18.1 points and 4.4 assists for the No. 4 Millers (11-0), the top team in Baltimore County and perennially one of the best in the state in Class 3A.
Cole, who made the first-round of nominations for the McDonald's All-American Game, is surrounded by less experienced teammates at Indian Creek (8-8), a small private school in Crownsville that plays in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference. She averages 24.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
McAliley and Cook said both players displayed tenacity, work ethic and a willingness to help younger players improve, in addition to their skill and smarts on the court.
Once Murray and Cole get together, all that is magnified.
"The nonverbal communication between those two is incredible," Gorham said. "They just know where the other one's going to be at any given time. They can just take a look at each other and the play runs smoothly.
"On one play, I think it was in Tennessee [at a national showcase], we're coming down court and Q flips the basketball up. I'm like, 'What the heck?' and Cyd comes from the other side for a little alley oop. They just do things so instinctively together that it's amazing."