Against Schaumburg last season, Ryan Connolly of Grayslake North threw down the first dunk of his varsity career.
He was just a freshman.
"That was pretty big for me," said Ryan Connolly, a 6-foot guard who finished with a career-high 29 points in that game.
Little did Ryan know, the night was about to get even bigger for the Connolly family.
Shortly after Ryan's dunk, big brother James threw down a dunk, too.
It was also the first varsity dunk for James, who was a junior last year.
"That was a memorable game for both of us," said James Connolly, a 6-foot-3 forward.
The Connolly brothers, who almost never fight (except for maybe over clothes for school) and are each other's biggest fans, are looking forward to making even more memories during the 2017-18 basketball season, which tips off all over the state with Thanksgiving tournaments starting on Monday.
It will be a bittersweet ride for James and Ryan.
While the memories are adding up, the Connollys' time together will be ticking down. James, now a senior, will be graduating next spring, and the brothers, who have had only a few opportunities to be on the same sports team over the years because of their age difference, will likely never get to play together in an official capacity again.
"I want to make the most of this season with him," James said of his dwindling time with Ryan. "I will definitely miss it. It won't be the same without him."
"I really enjoy playing with James a lot," Ryan said. "It's really great to be able to play with a brother who always has my back. It's a good feeling."
Likewise, it's a good feeling for the Knights to see the Connolly brothers still on the same roster. Their roster.
Last year, the brothers were a tough one-two punch in leading Grayslake North to a 17-10 record.
James Connolly, who, like Ryan, also was up on varsity as a freshman, nursed some nagging injuries all last season, but still averaged 15 points. Meanwhile, Ryan finished at 12 points per game but was especially effective later in the season, averaging 17 points over the final month.
"James is a special player who has really taken on a leadership role throughout the summer and into the season," Grayslake North coach Todd Grunloh said. "And Ryan started every game for us last season. Together, those two can do just about anything. They can score from inside, outside the arc, handle the ball, and rebound."
The Connolly brothers are similar players and can do many of the same things. But they also have their own strengths, and they each quickly acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, either older brother or younger brother may have the advantage in some categories.
The better shooter?
"James," Ryan said without hesitation. "But I think I finish better around the basket. I can jump higher."
"I agree with that," James said.
The better passer?
"Probably James, but I'm working on that because I'm going to be playing point guard this year," Ryan said.
"I take a lot of pride in my passing," James said. "I love getting a lot of assists and getting people involved. A great pass, to me, is even better than scoring."
The better defender?
"That's Ryan," James said. "He is quick, and I'm still working on it. He takes that extra step (to get into position) instead of reaching. I'm trying to do that."
The better student of the game?
"We'll call that even," James said with a laugh.
"That's true," Ryan said.
The leader in the 1-on-1 series between the two?
"I think that's pretty even too," Ryan said. "At least I think it's even."
"Yeah, it is," James said. "We just don't get the chance to play much anymore. We're so busy. But we both can beat each other."
The Connolly boys say that, yes, they really are this agreeable in real life, too, with their biggest problems coming only when the few pieces of clothing that they share are in the hamper thanks to the other brother having already worn it.
The Connolly boys forged an unbreakable bond early in their childhood in wake of their parents' divorce.
"We were always close but then our parents got divorced," James said. "I think we knew that we would need each other more than ever when that happened. That's when we got even closer."
James was in sixth grade and Ryan was in fourth grade at the time of the divorce.
"It was really hard at that time," James said. "But we helped each other adapt and get through and it's made us so much closer in the long run. I can't even remember the last time we really argued."
The Connolly brothers, both of whom are hoping to be able to play basketball in college, support each other as much on the court as they do at home, offering encouraging words through missed shots and tough moments.
They also push each other too.
"I think we make each other better players," Ryan said. "I think we know that all the hard work we've put in togther and against each other will pay off this season."
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