Westmoreland County rosters loaded with basketball brother combos

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Thursday, January 16, 2020 | 5:33 PM


Things got a little heated, Norwin junior basketball player Ty Bilinsky said while recalling a run-in with his younger brother.

“He pushed me into a glass door on the side of our house,” he said. “The glass broke. I was OK but we had to call that game off because we got in trouble.”

So go the one-on-one driveway battles at the Bilinsky house.

Another time, Adam Bilinsky, a freshman guard at Norwin, was knocked sideways into a parked car by his brother.

“It left a dent,” Adam said. “We got in trouble for that too.”

Tensions ebb and flow, but the Bilinskys have short memories.

Watch a Norwin game and there is chemistry, not bitterness, between siblings who have become teammates this season.

How quickly the dust-ups are forgotten.

The backcourt buds have assisted one another, high-fived and even hugged after wins.

At each other’s throats one minute and in their arms the next, brotherly love is a real thing this season in area basketball.

The Bilinskys are just one of a half-dozen brother combos that play together on local varsity teams as starters or key reserves.

Others include Ryan and Chase Sickenberger at Latrobe, Aidan and Ryan Bushey at Derry, Michael and Matthew Marinchak at Ligonier Valley, Imani and James Sanders at Jeannette, and Ryan and Ben Thomas at Greensburg Salem.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Ty Bilinsky said. “We know where the other will be on the court.”

Ty is a 17-point scorer to lead the Knights (9-4) while Adam is the spark-generating sixth man who has touch from the outside.

They come from a basketball family. Their father, Allan, a former two-sport standout at Norwin, is the boys basketball coach at Mt. Pleasant.

“Ty is very athletic and better off the dribble,” Norwin first-year coach Buddy Valinsky said. “Adam is a better shooter right now.”

Latrobe has had many sibling combos come through the program, the most notable, perhaps, being the Butlers — Austin, Bryce and now, Landon.

But the Sickenbergers are the latest duo to take the court together for the Wildcats (3-11).

“I don’t think we’ve had a set of brothers yet that are the same type of players,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said. “They always seem to be very different in their styles.”

Ryan Sickenberger, a junior, and Chase, a sophomore, have each played point guard. They often are in the same lineup, with each looking to kick the ball out to the other for a 3-pointer.

“We’re always competing,” Chase said. “Video games, especially. Madden or NBA. We both want to win.”

Ryan (15.2 ppg) said dunk contests on a shortened hoop at home can get testy. They also have a trampoline with a hoop to compare hops.

“We even dress the same,” he said.

Their father, Dean, played at Saint Vincent.

At Derry, Bushey-to-Bushey is a regular occurrence. Another backcourt tandem with scoring punch, Aidan is a senior and Ryan a junior.

They have come to an impasse many times, but the matters quickly are resolved.

“Mostly in the driveway,” said Aidan (18.5 ppg), “it’s whether or not it was a foul. In practice or games, it’s whether or not one of us should’ve made an extra pass.”

Like the Bilinskys, the game comes home with them. Their father, Don, is an assistant coach at Derry.

“I can say pretty much anything to him,” Aidan said of his brother. “Whether it’s harsh or a confidence booster, he’ll take it and build off of it. We build off each other’s energy in games, especially when we’re on a roll, but when we’re struggling, we feed off each other to pick the other one up.”

Ryan is the point guard for the Trojans (4-9). He does not like comparisons that might be drawn between he and his brother.

“The advantages of playing with him would be our knowledge of each other’s game and knowing all of each other’s tendencies, ” he said. “Disadvantages would be being compared to one another in respect to how we both play. A big disadvantage is our competitiveness with each other, which sometimes leads to us arguing about either practices or games.”

And don’t forget the film sessions.

“Before games, Aidan and I watch film and talk about the other team’s tendencies, and we then talk about what we need to do to score and execute,” Ryan said. “Our communication with each other is great, and that’s what I think helps us perform at the high level we do.”

Aidan said he and Ryan have a “different connection” on the court.

“Just seeing his eyes, I know where he’s going or where he wants me to go,” he said. “and when we’re really connecting it’s so much fun to play.”

The Marinchak brothers — senior, Michael, and Matthew, a sophomore — are best pictured wearing their black goggles.

Call them their trademark trait (among slick passes and long-range shots with hands in their faces).

“That’s definitely our thing,” Michael said of the protective glasses. “We have another player on our team that has them, and we’ve had parents tell us their kids want a pair to be like us. It’s amazing that kids look up to you like that. We incorporate it in our handshake we do before every game. We’ve definitely embraced the nickname, ‘The Goggle Bros.’”

The Marinchaks have the Rams (10-2) back in the chase for a Heritage Conference title and are primed for another District 6 playoff run — their final one since the program will join the WPIAL next school year.

The siblings, who both score in double figures, embrace competition, pure and simple.

“It’s been super fun,” Michael said of playing alongside his brother. “It creates tension but good tension. At practice, we are always going at each other, trying to score on each other and trying to stop each other. It’s made us come up with different moves. It makes us both better players and then when game time comes, everybody knows to be ready because he’ll find you open when he’s driving. He’s definitely the best ball-handler I’ve ever played with, which makes it easier for me.”

In another family tree-type situation, John Berger not only is the head coach at Ligonier Valley, he also is the Marinchaks’ uncle.

Senior Ryan Thomas is a key starter at Greensburg Salem while sophomore Ben Thomas comes off the bench. Imani Sanders is a senior guard at Jeannette, with James Sanders often accompanying him in the Jayhawks’ backcourt. Jeannette (8-6) is riding a seven-game winning streak.

The Sanders also shared a backfield in football with Imani at tailback and James as the quarterback.

Yough high-scoring junior guard Gamal Marballie is having a strong season but has yet to play a varsity game with his freshman brother, Khadeem, who plays on the junior varsity.

Stay tuned for that connection.

“I am looking forward to it,” Gamal said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what we can do.”

The same case exists at Norwin, where junior Nick Fleming, a starting forward this season, could play more regularly with his brother, Michael, a sophomore, in the future.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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