<
>

Twins have a unique bond

It's a twin thing. There's just no other way to explain it.

Even the closest of siblings can't understand, unless they shared a womb.

But for many high school athletes across the country, they have a shadow and it looks just like them. For three sets of twin girls who play high school basketball -- seniors Janelle and Julianne Nomura at Punahou (Honolulu), juniors Ashley and Brittany Wilson from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly and freshmen Maddie and Morgan Stock of St. Joseph (St. Louis, Mo.) -- this is just a snippet of their stories.

"Our girls say they have their 'twin thing' going on," St. Joseph's coach Julie Matheny said. "They can get a little chatty with each other; words that they wouldn't say to their other teammates, but because they know each other, they're comfortable taking a little jab at each other."

They don't do it often; none of them do. These twins are as close as can be, some running in the same group of friends, while others are in constant communication via cell phone and text message when not attached at the hip. But every so often an errant pass or extra step of aggressive competition in practice draws a comment or two.

"They have their little battles here and there, but they get along," Punahou coach Mike Taylor said. "The thing I like about it is they really cheer on each other. Julianne would get in and Janelle would be going crazy on the bench."

Just don't ask them about fifth-grade tests. One pair once traded a math test for an english test and no one was ever the wiser.

The senior duo in Hawaii

At Honolulu's Punahou School, there very well could be something in the water.

Following on the heels of 2008 graduates Shawna-Lei and Shaena-Lyn Kuehu, the Nomura sisters, seniors Janelle and Julianne, have extended the twin tradition at Punahou.

But it didn't start until junior year, when Julianne earned a spot on varsity, joining Janelle, who had nabbed a spot their freshman year.

"That was kind of hard because I was so used to playing with her," Janelle said. "But I was just trying to battle for playing time. It kind of didn't really hit me; I was more thinking about Shauna and Shaena and trying to give them competition. Then sophomore year, she was the last cut and that kind of hurt me."

But the sisters didn't let it hurt their relationship. Whether on different teams, or just on the court at different times, they continued supporting each other's play. It has made the moments this year when they're on the floor together that much more special, for them.

"She always has the fame and stuff, but she still supports me," Julianne said. "We support each other in everything and we compete against each other, so it's really fun. Since we've been playing so long, we have this connection."

The Nomura family is connected, too. The girls' parents and grandparents never miss a game and are usually joined by an aunt and uncle, as well as the girls' older sister, Jamie, who attended rival Iolani when she was in school.

Now a graduate student at Hawaii, Jamie takes teasing from her friends to sit on the Punahou side when her sisters are playing.

"They've got a great family," Punahou coach Mike Taylor said. "The grandpa sits here in the corner and videotapes every game, since they were small. I remember getting a video, I kid you not, of Janelle and Julianne playing in fifth grade. I was like 'who is this? Look at these two little girls running against the guys'."

The family they have and the family the girls have built on the court with their teammates is one of the main forces behind Punahou's fifth consecutive appearance in the Hawaii state championship game.

After this season, though, part of the family will take its show to the mainland, when Janelle, Punahou's starting point guard, heads to Cal State Northridge to continue her basketball career. Julianne, known as JuJu to friends and family, is still considering schools, including Chaminade and BYU-Hawaii, where she hopes to keep playing basketball.

And although a couple thousand miles may separate them soon, Janelle knows she wouldn't be where she is without Julianne, and vice versa.

"I think I handle pressure [defense] so well because she's not afraid of me," Julianne said. "Other people on my team, they kind of back off, my sister gets right up in my grill and tries showing me up every time. She knows my moves, she picks me, she knows everything about me."

She wouldn't be family if she didn't.

Once the Nomura twins graduate, there isn't another set of twins following on their footsteps. But for Taylor, it's only another four years until his own twin daughters will be high school freshmen.

California's inseparable pair

It's not a feature of their relationship they were trying to create, but greater forces are at work with Ashley and Brittany Wilson.

The Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, Calif.) juniors don't like seeing each other get injured, mostly because the healthy one knows she's next.

As freshmen, one injured her jaw and the other was right behind with a knee injury. During another offseason, Ashley Wilson broke her hand. Two weeks later, Brittany Wilson followed suit by breaking her foot.

"I was on crutches and she was in a cast," Brittany Wilson said. "Then she teased me the whole time because she came back [from her injury] before I did. … It's just been like that, I don't know, some kind of karma or something."

But even injured, the two boisterous and tenacious guards keep their teammates rolling in laughter.

"They're funny and they're loud," said senior teammate Monique Oliver, bound for USC next year. "They're really funny though. And you can always tell their laughs, because they're so loud.

Oliver, who joined the team as a junior, admitted that she couldn't tell them apart the first year she played against them. She's not the only one. Some of the parents use the generic "twin" or use "twin one" and "twin two" when cheering from the stands. Both said its doesn't bother them, even when they're called the wrong name.

"We used to wear a wristband on one arm and then one wear a headband, but it's always been like 'go twin' or 'go 11'," Brittany Wilson said. "But we've always been 11 and 12. She's the older one, so she's 12. She's older by five minutes and she picks on me about it."

For Ashley Wilson, it's just a little tough love for her barely younger sister. Ashley maintains that Brittany is "too sensitive" and that much of the teasing is meant to get Brittany to "toughen up." Ashley, admittedly, is a bit more in-your-face and, as the team tells her, "rude."

Their personality differences translate to the court, too, where the more naturally aggressive Ashley loves to drive and draw fouls, while sensitive Brittany is a slightly more refined outside shooter. The talented guards, who hope to play together in college, do pick up each other's moves, adding another level to their game.

"We're going together," Brittany Wilson said. "I can't … it's … I wouldn't even think about it. We have different friends and when I'll go to my friend's house, she calls me every minute. We want to go together."

The duo, both listed as 5-7 although Brittany claims to be the taller one, could be a strong combination for a college team, given their extra twin sense.

"When we're in the game together, we just feed off each other," Ashley Wilson said. "I think I play better with her. ... We compete against each other. What she does, I want to do stuff like that. It's like a competition, in a good way."

Missouri's fab freshmen

If Morgan and Maddie Stock get into any tiffs with each other in the next three years, they don't have to go very far to seek advice.

The freshmen forwards play for St. Joseph (St. Louis, Mo.) where Julie Matheny is the head coach and her twin brother, Bob Goessling, is an assistant and there is years of experience with the unique relationship of twins.

"I like how we can communicate on the floor," said Morgan Stock, the older twin by 16 minutes. "I know what she can do and she knows what I can do. But sometimes we get mad at each other."

Which means having the girls' father, Tim Stock, as an assistant with the Angels could come in handy if there are any arguments to diffuse. And seeing as they learned the game at an early age from him, the team will surely benefit, too.

"I used to play in men's leagues and take them to the gym," Tim Stock said. "We'd get in the car and they'd say 'dad, I saw you shoot an airball'. I'd be like, 'why are you watching the game? Go play with the other kids'."

From there, basketball became the way of life for the Stock family. The girls started playing in the second grade and started going to camps during elementary school.

Both girls have become a large part of St. Joseph's success right away, and not just because of their 6-foot frames. While Morgan finished recovering from a summer ankle injury, Maddie earned a starting spot immediately.

"I was a little bit nervous, but the team really helps, they're really supportive," Maddie Stock said. "And my sister's always there for me; she has my back."

The Stock twins fell in love with the St. Joseph program at an early age, when they first attended the girls basketball program's summer camp in third grade.

"They wouldn't look at any other school [for high school]," Tim Stock said. "They went to the camp and Bob and Julie were there. They just made it so much fun and they gave them popsicles and they just thought it was so great. … They went every year, looking for the popsicles."

That early connection with the coaches, and meeting the girls who played with the program as they volunteered at the camp each summer, put the girls on the path to the Angels' program. Familiarity with future teammates also eased some of the typical freshman nerves.

"I was really excited to play with them," Morgan said. "They always have a really good reputation and it's just really cool to be on their team."

Undoubtedly, this summer's popsicles won't hurt, either.

Discuss this on our Message Board

Mindi Rice is a National High School / ESPN HoopGurlz staff writer. She previously was an award-winning sportswriter at the Tacoma News Tribune. She can be reached at mindi@hoopgurlz.com.