Uncommon Bond

Stewart twins each make names for themselves as Sun Valley point guards

by Aaron Garcia

Sun Valley twins Ta’Shaun Stewart (left) and Shaun Stewart each are their team’s leading scorers at the point guard position. (Aaron Garcia/UCW photo)

Really, the case of Shaun and Ta’Shaun Stewart shouldn’t be all that uncommon. After all, as twins, they share basically the same DNA and enjoyed nearly identical upbringings, aside from the fact that Ta’Shaun is female and Shaun is male. They both had the same role models in older sister Celeste and parents Clarence and April.

All the possible variables that make an athlete an effective player – from diet to environment – were basically shared by the two while growing up.

But still, watching the Stewart twins run their respective Sun Valley basketball teams is a bit of a rarity.

“To have opposite sexes at the same school, playing the same position, you just don’t really see it,” said Sun Valley boys basketball coach Keith Mason. “It’s not all that normal.”

This season, the Stewarts each have become the faces of their teams. Shaun, one of the state’s top senior guards, is averaging 25 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.4 assists per game. Along with fellow guard Jalen Witherspoon (17 points per game), Stewart has the Spartans barreling toward a Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference title.

Ta’Shaun has taken the reins of the girls program and is having the best season of her career at 12 points per game.

And while the two are currently filling similar roles for their teams, they couldn’t have arrived at the same spot without taking very different paths.

From baby dolls to basketballs

The Stewarts’ success wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. Well, half of it was, said their mother, April.

“When (Shaun) started, he was, like, 3 years old and he wanted a ball in his hands,” said April. “I said, ‘Gosh, this boy is going to play some ball.’”

By age 5, Shaun was nearly making shots on a 10-foot rim.

Shaun followed in the footsteps of his older sister, Celeste, now a guard at East Carolina, and played to keep up with her.

But Ta’Shaun?

“She liked baby dolls,” April said. “I thought, ‘Well, she might start liking (basketball).’”

Eventually, Ta’Shaun began following her brother outside to play.

“She started getting better and better,” April said.

A short time later, they played their first year of organized basketball – on the same team. Even then, Shaun was a scorer, and Ta’Shaun said she would defer to her brother’s speed and scoring touch.

“I was the one just standing there watching,” she recalled with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Shaun, get me the ball!’ But he’d take it all. I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Cool.’

“As I gradually kept playing with them, I got better and better,” Ta’Shaun said. “I saw myself progress as a player instead of just being right beside (Shaun) and watching him.”

The difference in the twins’ careers didn’t reconcile once they got to Sun Valley simply because they wore the same uniform and played the same position. As a freshman, Shaun almost immediately asserted himself as one of the top young guards in the area after he and Witherspoon each earned starting roles.

While her brother was enjoying early success, Ta’Shaun was forced to prove her worth on the JV squad while a strong corps of veteran players filled out the varsity roster. But Ta’Shaun said she never became jealous of Shaun.

“I was proud of him, actually,” she said. “I didn’t make the (varsity) the first time, but I knew I’d be up there on the varsity team sooner or later. I was happy. I’d see him at school and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s a freshman doing this. Let me do this so I can be out there.’”

Ta’Shaun earned some major minutes by the end of her freshman year and was named the varsity starter as a sophomore.

“It took me longer to do it, but I’m here now,” she said. “I’m happy with that.”

April said Ta’Shaun’s reaction to her brother’s success was a pretty typical response for the twins.

“They’ve got that special love,” April said. “Shaun is the type of person that wants Ta’Shaun to do better than he does. He always puts her first, and she’s the same way.”

Approaching zero

Now, as seniors who have spent nearly their entire lives watching each other play, Shaun and Ta’Shaun are relegated to seeing just minutes of each other’s games; the boys team typically goes to their locker room to get dressed in the first half of the girls’ game.

But Shaun said he usually finds a way to keep tabs on his sis.

“In the third quarter, a little before Coach Mason starts his talk before the game, I’ll try to sneak out and see that score and what’s going on,” said Shaun. “I don’t get to see much, but most of the time I’ll watch when she’s playing. I’m focused but I’m still watching her.”

But it’s not always easy to go back to his locker room, even with his own game just minutes away.

“Sometimes it’ll be close, or an overtime game and I don’t know what’s going on,” Shaun said. “I’d like to see those moments because they’re special.”

But the two make sure to connect before games for a brief catch-up session and a hug.

“Usually, people are like, ‘You’re weird, you guys hug each other and stuff,’” said Ta’Shaun. “We do that. Every time we see each other before a game, we have to talk.”

Added Shaun: “It’s just a normal thing we do every day.”

That’s not to say the two never argue. But basketball has been the perfect bridge between them, especially this year, as Ta’Shaun has turned to her brother for help in becoming the team’s leader.

“I learned this year that I need to stop passing and help my team by scoring,” she said. “I got it from him, just helping me out with the dribbling and moves, or just going to the basket or shooting.”

Because of their shared role as point guards, Shaun said he’s been able to not only relate to his sister but gain some pointers himself.

“She’s more of a defensive player than me, so she’ll tell me to be more aggressive,” he said. “I’ve gotten to be a better defensive player.”

With their senior seasons more than half over, the two are trying to ignore the fact that this is the last year they’ll occupy the same gym. Ta’Shaun is exploring her options as schools such as Campbell express interest. Shaun is sifting through interest from several Division I and II programs, but the two likely will end up at different colleges.

To Mason, the traits that have made them solid high school players should carry over to their college careers.

“They’re both point guards and they run the show on the court,” he said. “I think that’s instilled in them, those leadership qualities to be able to do that at the point guard position.

“Not everyone can step in and play the point guard position.”

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