If you ask the Singler boys, they'll tell you they haven't competed against each other.
If you ask the Singler boys, they'll tell you they haven't competed against each other.
That's not entirely true. As far as being on opposing teams in a structured game setting? OK.
But anyone who's grown up in a household with brothers knows that's about all you do, whether it's competing in the dead of winter on a makeshift hoop in the garage or racing to the TV remote or calling dibs on the biggest steak.
Certainly, such battles aren't on the scale of Saturday's pending contest, when older brother Kyle's top-ranked Duke Blue Devils square off against E.J.'s Oregon Ducks at the Rose Garden in Portland. It's a college basketball showdown between two former South Medford stars that has captivated the state and, at the least, piqued the interest of other fans across the country.
For the Singlers, it will be more of the same, yet nothing like anything they've experienced.
"I don't remember when it started," says Kyle, an All-American senior forward, of his battles with E.J. "We've been playing with and against each other for a long time. Those are the games I remember most. It's fun to reminisce about them."
He doesn't recall being on opposing teams, however.
"That will be new and interesting, and I'm really looking forward to it."
It'll be the first time they've been on the court together in a high-stakes atmosphere since South Medford claimed the 2007 Class 6A state championship over Lake Oswego.
Kyle, 22, went on to play for legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, leading Duke to last season's NCAA championship. The versatile, 6-foot-8 workhorse was named the most outstanding player of the Final Four. After considering a jump to the NBA, he returned for his senior year, in part to play this game against his brother.
E.J., 20, crafted his own sterling prep career after Kyle's graduation, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds as a senior en route to state player-of-the-year honors. The 6-6 forward elected to play for Oregon, where he's participated in every game the past two years, mostly as a starter.
On Saturday, they'll come face to face, like so many times before.
MANY FAMILIES HAVE game night. It's safe to say Kyle and E.J. Singler had game morning, game noon and game night. In the front yard and back yard, driveway and living room. The games might have been of the stick-and-ball variety, as with a Wiffle bat or a football, or stick-and-move, as in a short-lived boxing experiment when gloves were a Christmas present.
"We put them on and went in the front yard and broke them in," says Kyle. "I don't think they lasted long. People were getting hurt."
Asked if his younger brother held his own, Kyle says, "Probably not ... but it would probably be a different story if you asked him. Deep down, he knows the truth."
"I'm sure Kyle won," he says, "but I don't have any evidence. There's no video."
The boys came by their competitive spirit honestly. Parents Ed and Kris were Division I athletes in football and basketball, respectively, at Oregon State.
Sibling rivalry is nothing new, of course.
"We fought like any other brothers," says E.J. "But we still loved each other."
Kyle considers his brother his best friend.
"We're just very close," says Kyle. "He'll probably say I bullied him around a little, but that's just the job of an older brother."
They played hard at everything. Each is willing to bang bodies, as they did so often in one-on-one games growing up, or in AAU ball, or in practices in the old South Medford High gym.
When they took it home, the contests sometimes turned to board games.
Kyle has a cerebral, contemplative side, says E.J., that was evident early and remains so through artwork for which the visual arts major has gained a measure of notoriety.
"Kyle always liked games that made him think," says E.J. "We had this war game that we always played. If I won, he wouldn't talk to me for a week. If he won, he'd be laughing in my face."
E.J. remembers when his brother got his hands on a Rubik's Cube.
"It took him months to figure that thing out," says E.J. "He never put it down until he did."
E.J. isn't built the same way. Referring to Kyle's expression through art, he says, "I can't draw worth a crap. He got the artsy ability."
Asked what he did get, E.J. pauses.
"I'm not sure," he laughs. "Maybe street smarts. I'm more of a straight and narrow kind of guy. Kyle's more up and down. You don't know what you're going to get from him, but you can always expect what you'll get from me."
As often happens, the brothers saw each other in a different light when they entered high school and were part of the same athletic and social arena.
While it's conceivable E.J. could have had a difficult time adjusting to being the little brother of one of the best schoolboy players in the country, that wasn't the case.
"I always thought, 'Wow, this is great,'" says E.J. "Kyle was being looked at and talked about as being one of the best players around the nation. It was so cool for me to be his brother. He gave me such a positive outlook on things. He gave me motivation. I always looked at it like that. I never looked at it as a negative."
Kyle relished his days at South Medford with his brother, as well as his sister, Katen, a four-year player on the Panthers' girls team who graduated in 2005.
But teaming up with E.J. proved rewarding.
"I think it did change it (their relationship), for the better," says Kyle. "It made us closer. Being on the team with your sibling or cousin, it does bring you together in some ways. We've always been close and always loved each other, but I kind of got to know him a little better."
These days, they're divided by a continent, but they keep in contact through text messages a couple times a week and by e-mailing videos back and forth.
"We both like funny ones," says E.J., "watching pranks and cool, crazy stuff."
The divide will close Saturday, and how it plays out remains to be seen.
DURING KYLE'S RECRUITMENT, Coach K said he'd try to schedule an Oregon team before he graduated. When Kyle opted to return this season, the process began with Krzyzewski asking whether he'd rather face Oregon or Oregon State. It was a no-brainer.
The game itself doesn't figure to be close, even though the teams only have one loss between them. Unbeaten Duke is, well, Duke. Oregon (4-1) is picked to finish last in the Pac-10 Conference, and as a columnist wrote, that might only be because it hasn't yet become the Pac-12.
E.J., however, likes what he sees under new coach Dana Altman and maintains the Ducks can win this game.
"Where there's a will, there's a way," he says. "We can beat Duke, but it's not going be easy. Everyone probably has us getting beat by 30. A lot of people are saying we're going to be last in the Pac-10, and I know that's not gonna happen."
The outcome itself seems secondary, however, to many folks who spent cold winter nights in steamy gyms watching the Singlers perform. There will be a mass exodus from the Rogue Valley to Portland this weekend for a helping of deja vu.
Among them will be parents Ed and Kris — they'll have Thanksgiving dinner with the Duke team but will also visit with E.J. — and other family members.
It was suggested to E.J. that the brothers might be the most comfortable people in the arena, and he agreed.
"The easy part is playing and the tough part is being a fan," says E.J. "Definitely, our parents have it tougher."
So, too, will sister Katen, whose tweets about the homecoming continue to build to a crescendo.
She has joked that she taught them how to play, and she is steadfast in her fandom.
"She might have it worse than anyone," says E.J. "I could see her throwing up in the corner of the Rose Garden."
Despite his vast experience on big stages, Kyle won't be without jitters.
"But it's not going to be all about myself or E.J.," he says. "It'll be about Duke and Oregon. That's one thing I will be focusing on. It'll just be about trying to win the ballgame and playing well as a team."
Ed Singler considers the matchup a celebration of Kyle's career and his contribution to Duke basketball, but he also sees it as a reward for the work E.J. has put in to reach this level.
The family will sit just a few rows up, right smack at midcourt. They will wear shirts equal parts Oregon and Duke, and there won't be a hint of a lean.
"It'll be a special moment," says Ed, who helped coach his sons through the youth ranks. "If you've been in athletics and been a fan of sports, this is something very special. It's a celebration. I'm not worried about the outcome of the game. That does not matter to me in the least."
He mentions Kyle's teammates, brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee, and what a treat it is for their parents to watch them play together at such a high level.
"In our situation, it's a one-time deal," says Ed.
The difference, of course, is that the Singler brothers won't be wearing the same colors. It should lead to interesting interaction.
The players didn't speak much about the game as it approached, but that likely will change, says E.J., "when we take the court."
"There might be some conversation," says Kyle. "I don't know what we'll say. There's nothing scripted."
E.J. might want to be careful. In pickup games of old, Kyle was too busy scoring on him to allow E.J. much time for smack talk.
"But if I did something good or blocked a shot, I would say something to him," says E.J. "It usually turned around bad for me because he'd get more mad and score more on me."
That's just part of being a brother, too.
And regardless of the school emblems, the color schemes and the miles between, that relationship never changes.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org