- Dana O'Neil, College Basketball Reporter
- 0 Shares
Tyler Hansbrough is a national player of the year candidate. He's also a crummy pool player.
Pat Calathes is one of the best shooters in the Atlantic 10. And he got smoked in a game of one-on-one on his own court.
Jason Thompson is a legit NBA pick. He's also easy to pick on.
Behind every accomplished oldest child, there is a little brother just itching to bring him back to Earth. And in college basketball this season, there are a whole lot of little brothers with stories, including Ben Hansbrough, Nick Calathes and Ryan Thompson. With a big assist from sports information directors across the country, ESPN.com uncovered 40 sets of Division I-playing basketball brothers.
There are high-scoring twins (VMI's Travis and Chavis Holmes, both 1,000-point scorers), separated twins (Pittsburgh's Brad Wanamaker and Central Connecticut's Brian Wanamaker) and joined twins who separated (Reginald and Richard Delk transferred out of Mississippi State together; Reginald went to Louisville, Richard to Troy).
Appropriately enough, there is even a pair of Hoopes: Cris, a senior, and his redshirting freshman brother, Sam, at Southern Utah.
ESPN.com caught up with five pairs of brothers to get the skinny on brotherly love, hoops style.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Ordinarily relegated to basement fun and games, ping-pong has taken on a new life in the Hansbrough household.
There, it is a full-contact sport.
Tyler and Ben Hansbrough's version is called Texas ping-pong.
The rules are simple. Two consecutive points won means a free shot -- at your opponent.
"You have to take off your shirt and the other guy gets to try and hit you as hard as he can," Ben said. "It's pretty intense. It hurts."
Tyler "Psycho T" Hansbrough clearly wasn't born on North Carolina basketball. Ben has known the alter ego for years. The brothers switched up the rules in every game they played, always with an eye on making competition as fierce as possible. For backyard basketball, they lowered the hoop, better for in-your-face dunking; and in one-on-one, a three-dribble limit made games more interesting.
"He'd probably deny that he got real mad, but sometimes he'd throw the ball," said Tyler, the Tar Heels junior. "He would never fight me. He'd run away. That's how it was with him."
"No, he's wrong," said Ben, a sophomore at Mississippi State. "I beat him a lot. I'm a better one-on-one player. I have the better jump shot."
Save the folks living under a basketball boulder, most everyone knows about Tyler these days. A sure bet All-American on the No. 3 team in the country, he leads North Carolina in scoring (22.8 points per game) and rebounding (10.6). If his face isn't on your television screen, it is in your newspaper or in your sports magazine.
Ben is Eli Manning, circa 2007. The Bulldogs' fourth-leading scorer (10.2 points) and a stat stuffer who also averages 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists from his guard position, he is not yet the star on a less prominent team.
But like Manning, Ben harbors no animosity or jealousy.
"If I don't talk to him for a while, he'll call me and say, 'Oh, you're too big-time now for your brother,'" Tyler said with a laugh.
Truth is, the pair talk, text or e-mail regularly. They are each other's ideal sounding boards. There is nothing Ben is going through that Tyler hasn't already experienced, nothing Tyler can say that Ben won't understand.
Rarely home together because of the demands of their college schedules, they play less one-on-one these days. That only ups the ante on the basement favorites.
"He beats me in pool all the time now; he must be practicing," Tyler said. "But he can't touch me in ping-pong."
No doubt Ben has the welts to prove it.
Sacrificing blood and teeth
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Calathes suggested using a blue light to get the evidence.
"If you hold one up to Pat's teeth," the Florida freshman said, "you'll see they aren't real."
About eight years ago, Nick scored a direct whack on Pat, punching his older brother as they chased one another around a room. Then he did what all little brothers would do in that situation: He ran like hell. Nick sprinted straight out of the room, slamming the door shut in Pat's face.
Only problem: Pat didn't stop. He ran directly into the door and while Nick cowered in his room, Pat bled all over the house, his two front teeth the victims of the latest case of brotherly love.
In the Calathes' household, there were two constants: basketball and stitches. Pat, his twin, John, plus little brother, Nick, waged battles on and off the court that more than once ended in trips to the emergency room.
Along with Pat's teeth, Nick's nose, forehead and eyebrow were victims of the Calathes' version of love pats. Pat crowned Nick with a king after little brother beat big brother in a game of chess. A butterfly bandage closed the wound on his nose. John and Pat twice double-teamed little brother when Nick was floating in the pool, once tagging him on the back of the head with a hardball and another time hurling darts at the floatie he was using. The floatie didn't take a direct hit, but Nick did. He ducked and caught his forehead on the blow-up mechanism.
"That was more stitches," said Nick, who exacted revenge by smoking Pat at Hawk Hill in a pickup game recently. "And the other time, we were all wrestling and I hit a corner of a table. More stitches."
Sensing a theme here? Yup, little brother took the brunt of it. Nick swears the sneak attacks and one-on-one court battles made everyone tougher.
The stat sheets bear out the theory. Pat leads Saint Joseph's in scoring with 18.6 points per game, while rookie Nick tops the Gators' charts, averaging 15.2 points. There's no concrete way to check the record books, but Gary Johnson, the NCAA's associate director for statistics, said anecdotal evidence would indicate this is the first time brothers have led two separate teams in scoring in the same season.
Were it not for a medical condition, it might have been 3-for-3. John Calathes and his twin brother won a 10-and-under AAU national championship, but shortly after, John was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM), an abnormal collection of blood vessels on the brain stem. The condition can cause seizures, headaches and more severe neurological problems. Instead of basketball, John endured multiple surgeries.
Now he is enrolled at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., owns his own insurance business and cheers for his brothers from the stands. Pat wears No. 12, John's old number.
"I'm actually the best shooter," John said.
"Yeah, John will say he's the best shooter," Nick said unprompted, during a phone interview from Gainesville, "but I am."
The trash talk now is good natured, the fisticuffs over. Nick and Pat don't even stat watch. John floats between the two, visiting Pat in Philadelphia or driving up to Gainesville when his schedule allows.
Both Florida and Saint Joe's are on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but if both get in, Nick and Pat would love to meet in the tourney.
John isn't so sure.
"I'd pretty much cut all loyalties and hope they both do well," he said.
"Wait, come on," Pat countered. "I'm your twin."
Just like always, big brothers ganging up on Nick.
Pulling priceless pranks
LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. -- Jason Thompson dashed to class, leaving behind the Valentine's Day rose just delivered to his Rider University dorm room, the attached card unopened.
His curiosity ate at him all through class.
"He told me, 'Man I got a rose from a girl and I don't even know who it's from,'" junior Harris Mansell said.
By the time class ended, Jason's curiosity was killing him. He raced back to the dorm to open it.
"Dear Jason," read the card. "You're our favorite. We love you. Love, Patrick and Ryan."
Score one for the little brothers.
On Rider's suburban New Jersey campus, the Broncs are tied for first in the MAAC and lead the nation in brotherly ribbing. Rider sports two sets of brothers -- the Thompsons, senior Jason and sophomore Ryan; and the Mansells, junior Harris and freshman Patrick -- turning the Broncs into a hoops version of the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Ryan and Patrick are roommates, brothers in arms who like nothing more than to annoy their older brothers. If either Harris or Jason comes down the lane during practice, he can expect an elbow from Ryan or Patrick. If Patrick drains a 3-pointer, Jason and Harris know a sarcastic pat on the rump is coming their way.
And if cheerleaders are selling secret Valentines, come on. Some things are too easy.
"We both came up with the idea at the same time," Patrick said. "I paid the $3 for it, but it's like the commercial. Priceless."
The quartet has made for an interesting atmosphere at Rider, where the notion of a basketball family isn't just empty talk. This is family, warts and all.
"The little brothers, they're antagonistic," coach Tommy Dempsey said. "I probably give them more rope when they're going at it with each other than I would with other guys. Other guys, you worry about chemistry, escalating to another level. With those guys, I know it's different."
Dempsey didn't intentionally recruit package deals. Ryan and Patrick were young when Dempsey signed Jason and Harris. Eventually both merited their own attention.
The Mansells grew up in Cheltenham, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, where they spent more time in shooting contests than one-on-one games. The practice paid off. Both are lethal 3-point shooters. Harris drained 70 for Rider in 2006-07 and has 58 in 27 games this season. Patrick graduated as his high school's all-time career leader in 3s, and is averaging 3.1 points as a sub this season for the Broncs.
The Thompsons led Lenape High School (Medford, N.J.) to a state championship and an undefeated season during Jason's senior year. Taller by 5 inches, Jason long cast a literal and figurative shadow over his baby brother. Asked to point out any war wounds from the sibling rivalry, a giddy Ryan pointed to a scar under his right thumb.
"I get killed all the time when we play, but this one time I got lucky," Ryan said. "We're talking smack, game point and we collided in the air. I hit the concrete and when I landed, it took a chunk out of my hand. It was worth it. I get to look at it all the time and remember the only game I beat him."
Ryan admitted he toyed with going anywhere but Rider, figuring it would do him some good to get away from his brother's star power. In the end he decided he'd to go where he had a chance to play immediately. They are now the Broncs' Nos. 1 and 2 scorers.
Despite Ryan's success -- averaging 15 points and 6.1 boards, he's a likely All-MAAC performer -- Jason's shadow still looms. Courtesy of a breakout junior season in which he was one of three players in the nation to average 20 points and 10 rebounds, and an equally strong senior campaign, Jason is considered a strong NBA draft prospect.
"I'm proud of him," Ryan said. "He deserves it all. He's earned it. I just can't wait for the draft party."
"Yeah, I might invite you," Jason said with a laugh.
Ryan can bring the roses.
Head-to-head bragging rights
Maybe, Kaleb Korver hoped, his brother would forget.
Creighton freshman Kaleb and Drake senior Klayton Korver made a friendly wager when the two Missouri Valley schools went head-to-head this season. Loser has to wear the winning team's jersey at a major school function.
On Jan. 27, Drake won 68-60 in overtime.
And on Jan. 30, Drake won again, 75-65.
"I'm just waiting until the season ends," said Klayton, clearly remembering the bet. "Maybe a booster function or something like that will work."
There was no chance Klayton would forget, not when winning meant embarrassing his little brother and certainly not when the bet centered on basketball. Korvers don't forget much when it comes to roundball. Their name is to hoops as Kennedy is to politics. Their father, Kevin, played at Central College in Iowa; mom, Laine, once dropped 74 points in a high school game; big brother Kyle is a sharpshooter with the Utah Jazz; Klayton starts for surprise Drake; Kaleb is a sub off the Creighton bench; and 16-year-old Kirk might just be the best shooter of them all.
"Our family's idea of a good time is going to the gym and working out," Klayton said.
With the swish of a ball through the twine the soundtrack to their lives, the Korver family has logged more time in a basketball gym than John Wooden.
From Pella (Iowa) High School, the Korver route has been to the Valley. Kyle was a two-time conference player of the year at Creighton before Krayton enrolled at Drake before Kaleb chose Kyle's alma mater. Kirk hasn't picked a college yet.
The Valley connections have made for some uncomfortable evenings this season. Kaleb and Klayton are usually partners, not opponents. When the brothers play two-on-two, the NBAer Kyle sides with the youngest, Kirk, to even things up. And when the family sits down for a card game called Pepper, Kaleb and Klayton are the unbeatable duo.
"We never lost on any of our vacations," Kaleb said. "I like to think it's skill, but really it's just luck."
Kaleb could have followed his brother to Drake and continued their partnership, but he felt Creighton was a better fit. Klayton didn't mind, telling his brother, "Hey that just means I get to play you."
That sounded good until it actually happened. Kevin and Laine played Switzerland, each spending a half behind one of the boys' benches. Kaleb and Klayton went Cold War, opting to not speak to one another in the week leading up to each game.
"The last three years, I've been at Drake cheering for him," said Kaleb who had seven points off the bench in the first game and played sparingly in the second. Klayton had 14 and seven. "This year it was weird. I had mixed emotions. I wanted him to do well, but I wanted to win."
Act III could be just around the corner. The MVC tournament starts March 6. Drake already has clinched the regular-season crown and is a lock to make the NCAA field. Creighton, at 18-8 overall and 9-7 in the league, is on the bubble.
"I actually think it's kind of cool that we're in the same league now," Klayton said.
Easy for him to say. He won the bet.
A family affair
Johnny McConathy walked down the driveway from his family's Bienville Parish farm in Louisiana, turned down the road toward Natchitoches and started walking.
Louisiana Normal College was a good 50 miles away, and no one had exactly invited him to campus. Unlike for his big brother, Leslie, no college coaches came by to offer a scholarship at the family dinner table. No one even told the 6-foot-1 player who missed his entire senior season with a broken leg to come take classes. Johnny wasn't interested in taking no for an answer, so he stuck his thumb out and waited for a ride.
That was 1948. Since Johnny hitched to campus, Louisiana Normal has become Northwestern State, and Demons basketball has become a McConathy birthright. Johnny's eldest son, Mike, is the head coach, and his two grandchildren, freshmen Michael and Logan, are on the team.
And in the rafters hangs jersey No. 14. It belongs to the hitchhiker no one wanted.
"We came up with an understanding that you got what you worked for," Johnny said. "I was fortunate."
Completing the circle in full, when Johnny takes his seat in the stands to watch the Demons play, Michael is wearing Johnny's old number. He asked his grandfather's permission to unretire No. 14 when he enrolled.
"I think it's just amazing to wear his number," Michael said. "It makes him proud, but [it makes] us proud that we're carrying on in the sport that he loved before my dad loved it, before we loved it."
Seemingly inconsequential twists and intersections in a life often lead to pivotal changes, none more than the McConathy legacy that Johnny created when he insisted he could play college ball. Coach H. Lee Prather originally told Johnny he had no spot for him on the team. Refusing to walk back home, Johnny loitered on campus for a few days, long enough to impress Prather with his persistence and long enough to be in the right place when another player failed to show up. Prather gave Johnny the extra scholarship but told him the offer was on a day-to-day basis.
Four years, three seasons, one four-inch growth spurt and 1,092 points later, Johnny was an All-American and the fifth pick in the 1951 NBA draft.
The persistence gene clearly hasn't skipped any generations. Mike, a 2,000-point scorer at Louisiana Tech, was turned down twice for the head coaching job at Northwestern State before finally landing the gig in 1999.
Regulars at practice, his boys grew into players. Michael was a district MVP, and Logan a second-team all-state selection, making a continuation of the McConathy-Northwestern State tradition a natural.
"The legacy our family has created in our area gave me something to live up to," Logan said. "It wasn't a bad thing, but something to strive for every day. Coming to school here was always a dream of mine. I knew there would be more attention and a lot of pressure, but I didn't mind. I belonged here."
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
They compete at the highest levels in Division I basketball, but these sets of brothers trace their competitive roots all the way back to their childhoods, writes Dana O'Neil.