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Willison Dynasty - Siblings shine on Hancock's hardcourt

February 07, 2005|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

HANCOCK - When they first picked up a basketball and started playing eight years ago, all Jeff and Jennifer Willison wanted to do was have a little sibling competition.

"We both started (playing) at about the same time," Jeff said. "I was in fourth grade and she was in third. We'd spend time in the back yard playing against each other."

Little could they have known that in a few short years they would be leading Hancock High School's boys and girls teams in points and rebounds at the same time.

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China had the Ming Dynasty.

Hancock has the Willison Dynasty.

"We'll read the paper and Preps Extra, and we're both in there, and we're like, 'Wow,'" Jennifer said. "We went from that to this and we stuck with each other and pushed each other. We helped each other become better."

A 6-foot-7 senior, Jeff has always stood out in a crowd. But he didn't always stand out on the hardcourt at Hancock, making his current status as the team's leader in points and rebounds (16.6 and 11.5 per game, respectively, through last Wednesday) more satisfying.

"It was more than I'd think of as a freshman because I didn't even make the JV team," Jeff said "I had to work on boxing out and rebounding. I was always considerably taller than everybody, so I could just reach up. But now everyone can jump."

Jeff's bruising play is a major reason why Hancock's boys team is enjoying its finest season in several decades. The Panthers are 16-1, have a good chance of securing a top-two seed in the Class 1A West West sectional - a remarkable feat for one of the smallest public schools in Maryland - and the buzz surrounding the team has steadily grown.

"You walk through the hallways and people who don't have anything to do with basketball are talking about us and coming out to watch us play," Jeff said. "We probably have the best fan turnout for a school our size."

"I love to point at him and tell people, 'That's my brother,'" Jennifer said. "When he dunks, I tell people, 'That's my brother.' I'm happy for him and the whole team."

Those early days spent learning the game were surely more difficult for Jennifer, the little sister to Jeff and Jason Willison - a 1999 Hancock graduate who works as a police officer.

"I had two older brothers, and I had to fight for everything when I was little," said Jennifer, a junior. "I got (my aggressiveness) from them. Growing up with two older brothers out in the country made me tough."

That aggressiveness pays off against the same-sex competition she faces these days. Jennifer leads the Lady Panthers with averages of 16.1 points and 12.9 rebounds per game through Wednesday.

While her team has not enjoyed the same success as the boys - Hancock's girls are 6-10 and 2-4 in the Apple Valley League, one of the better girls conferences in the area - the chance to play against teams such as Hedgesville, Martinsburg, Jefferson and Notre Dame Academy has provided Jennifer with a measuring stick for her abilities.

"I look at it as I can hang with those girls," Jennifer said. "I know going into those games that I have to have my 'A' game on when I play tougher schools like that."

Both Jeff and Jennifer have to have their 'A' games working in order to outdo their arch-rivals - themselves.

"If I have a 20-point game, she has to have a 24-point game," Jeff said. "If I get 16 rebounds, she has to go get 18. That's just how it is with us."

"The really competitive part of us didn't start until high school," Jennifer said. "He'll be like, 'I scored more points than you,' and the next game, I'll shoot back, 'I scored more than you!' We still do that."

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