STARKVILLE — There”s no guarantee siblings who play the same sport will develop the same way.
Differences in height, weight, and athleticism can leave a glaring difference between the players, especially when they play on the same team.
At best, a coach can hope the players possess a passion for the game and good work ethic.
Starkville High boys basketball coach Greg Carter has that in brothers Mike and Steven Brand.
The brothers, born 10 months apart, have been integral pieces in the Yellow Jackets” second-straight appearance in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 6A State Tournament. The Yellow Jackets will face Meridian in the semifinal March 2.
Mike, a junior, starts at two guard while Steve, a sophomore, plays on the wing and has seen time at point guard.
Considering where they were a year ago — Steve was a B-team player — Carter feels fortunate to have to have both in key roles.
“I”ve had brothers before where one would excel and the other didn”t,” Carter said, “so I had no idea how either of them would turn out. We”re asking so much more of them.”
Mike was a spark plug off the bench last season. His ability to knock down open perimeter shots opened things up for his teammates. He rarely handled the ball, especially against the press, and as a result saw limited minutes. His shooting stroke and his unflappable demeanor helped him feel at ease when he hit the court.
“Probably the summer before last when he was playing with Edward Townsel and Rashad Perkins, and Quez Johnson is when you started to see it develop in him,” Carter said of Mike”s confidence. “It just seemed like he wasn”t fazed by all the hype and all that of playing with those guys.
“This year, he”s gotten to where he”s unfazed by people pressing and trapping. You”ve just seen Mike continue to grow.”
Johnson, who started at two guard last season in the state championship run, had surgery to repair a torn labrum, which created an opening for Mike.
Mike said the transition to playing without 2010 Mr. Basketball Rashad Perkins, Arkansas State point guard Townsel, and Johnson was tough for the team”s inexperienced players. He called the process “a nightmare” in the beginning, but believes everyone”s willingness to play multiple roles helped him adjust quicker.
“Stepping out there in the very first game, that”s when it hit me we didn”t have guys to hit big shots like we did,” Mike said. “Everybody had to step up. Quez, Rashad, Tay (Townsel) — they were a big part of our offense. But when you have everyone doing their role, you have a perfect team. A perfect team can”t be beat.”
For Steve, earning varsity minutes would have been a major step after underwhelming the coaching staff his freshman season. His rebounding and defense, especially with starting center Gavin Ware sidelined with a knee injury for the 6A North State tournament, have been bonuses for the Yellow Jackets.
“I didn”t play hard last year. I guess because I was just happy being on the team,” Steve said. “I figured out I had to work harder to play on this level. You got to work hard because there”s so much talent here.”
Carter said Steven”s development has been monumental considering he hadn”t played at the varsity level in the highest classification.
“He”s grown by leaps and bounds, and some areas of his game (like playing off the dribble) that were non-existent are strengths now,” Carter said. “Last year, it seemed like he was afraid to put it on the floor and drive it to the basket. I didn”t expect for him to be where he is now. It”s a pleasant surprise.”
Having a sibling so close in age makes for competitive one-on-one matches growing up, though Mike is a couple of inches shorter than Steve.
“It was always back and forth,” Steve said. “Sometimes I”d beat him a lot, and then he”d beat me a lot. It was always fun.”
However, siblings rarely have the chance to play on the same team, much less be in the starting lineup together.
Mike and Steve started playing together in the eighth grade but haven”t been on the court together as much as they have this season.
“This feels great,” Mike said. “We grew up being big competitors, and I used to love playing against him. But there”s nothing better than having my brother out there. It gives me more excitement to want to play.
“I wish I could hoop with him the rest of my life.”