Damon and Dante Simmons have been playing basketball against each other all their lives, in heated one-on-one games that only brothers could understand.
"We have had a lot of battles on the backyard hoop," said Damon. "I was always a little older, bigger and better, so I would beat him all of the time."
Dante, 16, said that while Damon, 17, had the advantage in their sibling rivalry, he now has caught up with his older brother.
"He did beat me all the time," said Damon. "But now I can get him. Honestly, he taught me a lot. I was lucky to be able to grow up playing against him."
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Damon and Dante now play for the same team on a First Assembly squad that is rolling with a 18-1 record, including 11-1 in Metrolina conference play going into the final week of the season.
Both Simmonses, who transferred from Olympic High at the beginning of the school year, play key roles. Damon, a 6-foot-3 senior forward, is one of the Eagles' top post players and rebounders, averaging 10 points and 6 rebounds per game, on a smaller First Assembly team. Meanwhile, Dante is a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard who plays mostly on the wing but is a slasher and driver.
The difference in their play allows Damon and Dante to work better together, on a different level from teammates.
"I know what he is thinking on the court, and he knows what I'm thinking, just by looking at each other," said Damon. "We really click well together and it helps our team."
While the Simmonses' offensive style is different, defensively, Damon and Dante are disruptive with their length and quickness, and they usually match up with opponents' best player.
"The thing that jumps out at you about both of them is their athleticism," said First Assembly basketball coach Dave Murr. "Their defensive ability also allows us to play the style of full court pressure that is best for us."
That defense also allows First Assembly's top offensive weapons in senior guards Chad Frazier (20 ppg) and Codi Miller-McIntyre (16 ppg) to rest a bit defensively and be more potent on an offense that scores nearly 80 points per game.
The brothers say they like playing for Murr and love the fast-paced play that allows a lot of freedom for First Assembly players.
Damon's best game this season came against Covenant Day, when he had 15 points and collected 12 rebounds. Dante had a season-high 14 points in a win against Hickory Ridge.
While they are not team stars, both Damon and Dante are comfortable in their roles for the Eagles.
"I don't think we really knew what to expect when we came to First Assembly," said Dante.
"We both love coach Murr and our teammates. Coach Murr is a great coach who talks to his players, and he knows what he is doing."
Murr and the Eagles hope they can get back to the NCISAA 2A state championship for the third season in a row and capture their first title.
"We feel like we will have a great chance to win it if we can stay focused on the present and not get ahead of ourselves," said Damon. "Right now we are playing great. Everybody on the team is focused on winning. We aren't worried about individual statistics."
While Dante has two years left at First Assembly, Damon is playing his last few weeks of high school basketball - maybe in his career.
Damon signed with Hargrave Military Academy, where he will play wide receiver on the football team next year, hoping to impress college scouts and earn scholarship offers.
Dante, who also plays football at First Assembly, says he soon will have to make a decision as to what sport he will focus on.
"I definitely want to play college basketball or football," he said. "I'm going to make a decision on one of them pretty soon."
But no matter what happens, the Simmons brothers will continue to support each other as brothers, teammates and friends.
"We used to go at it in the backyard on the court and get into a lot of arguments," said Damon.
"But we've grown to be very close. We work together now, and want the best for each other."