It's OK being E.J.
Edward Jeorge Singler ponders the question — what's it like being Kyle Singler's little brother? — as if he's heard it a thousand times before.
Leaning against a wall in the South Medford High locker room, the soft-spoken sophomore smiles and says: "I am so proud of him for all that he's done, but I am comfortable being me."
One might think it's difficult being the younger brother of a 6-foot-9, 215-pound phenom who's considered among the very best high school basketball players in the country. A player who is headed to Duke University on a full scholarship. A player who averages nearly 30 points, dunks in his sleep and routinely takes over games for the state's No. 2-ranked Class 6A team.
But while the adulation, publicity and recruitment pendulums have swung Kyle Singler's way — being two years older helps — the two brothers always have been equals in the Singler household. To parents Ed and Kris Singler, passing the potatoes at the dinner table can earn you just as many points as passing the basketball in the backyard. And passing on your homework can draw just as much ire.
"E.J. and I have fought like all brothers do — for the couch, the TV, the front seat in the car — but we're a tight-knit family and we've been taught that we can be whatever we want to be if we put our mind to it and work for it," Kyle Singler says. "E.J. is creating his own journey, his own path."
On a South Medford team that meets Grant in the first round of the 6A state tournament Thursday at Eugene's McArthur Court, E.J.'s niche as a 6-5, 190-pound post has been to crash the boards, play tenacious defense, pass the ball to his brother and junior point guard Michael Harthun, and hit open shots.
Head coach Dennis Murphy says no one in his 32 years of coaching has played a role more precisely than E.J. Singler.
"He does exactly what he's asked to do," Murphy says. "He could certainly score more, and sometimes he's almost too unselfish with the ball, but he does all the little things that win basketball games. And, even though he's a quiet kid, he's very much a competitor."
E.J. Singler averages just 7.1 points per game, but he's shooting 55 percent from the field and 78 percent from the free-throw line. More importantly, he's ripping down 6.1 rebounds per game and he often draws tough defensive assignments.
One of those assignments came during South Medford's 77-59 win over Oregon City in a state tournament play-in game last Saturday. The younger Singler held Oregon City's Jared Cunningham, a 6-9 senior standout, to just five points through the first three quarters. Cunningham finished with 19, but 11 came in the game's final four minutes when E.J. Singler wasn't guarding him and the outcome had long been decided.
E.J. scored only six points himself but he snagged 12 rebounds, including seven offensive boards.
"We told E.J. before the game that he was the better player (than Cunningham) and I think he proved that," Murphy says.
Not surprisingly, E.J. Singler already has made his way to major college recruiting lists. Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Penn State and Cal-State Santa Barbara have all sent letters.
"Kyle definitely has helped get my name out there," E.J. Singler says.
E.J. Singler is also getting recruited in football as a tight end and linebacker. He was a first-team all-Southwest Conference performer on defense last fall.
The younger Singler will undoubtedly look to score more next season after his brother and two other starters — forward Van Dellenback-Ouellette and guard Jon Grimes — graduate. He plans to enter the South Medford gym repeatedly with assistant coach Josh Jamieson in the off-season and work on his shooting and ball-handling skills.
"Next year I'll need to step up and be one of the leaders," E.J. Singler says. "I'll need to talk more and be there for my teammates, kind of what Kyle has evolved into, personality-wise."
E.J. Singler warmed up to that task at a practice last month. As Kyle drove the lane, E.J. muscled up to him and partially blocked Kyle's shot, but appeared to thoroughly foul him in the process.
Kyle then went toe-to-toe with his brother and yelled: "E.J., what the hell was THAT?"
E.J. stood his ground, puffed out his chest and responded, "THAT, Kyle, was defense!"
Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail email@example.com