Photo by Christine Troyke
SUWANEE -- If you want C.J. Blackwell and Corey Heyward to fight like brothers, ask one who is the NBA's best player.
Let Corey start.
"LeBron (James) is better because he plays defense and has way more leadership. The only reason Kobe (Bryant) is winning right now is because of those Lakers teams when they had the prime Shaq ..."
And C.J. can't say quiet any longer.
"Shaq wasn't there that last two," he interrupts with a counter-point.
Corey continues: "But he had Lamar Odom and another power. When this whole free agent thing comes up (James) just needs one more key element. LeBron can shoot, pass and dunk on you ..."
Enter C.J.: "So can Kobe."
Corey: "But his is awkward."
C.J.: "LeBron is powerful, yeah, but the stats prove it. What year hasn't Kobe been on the all-defensive team?"
Corey: "I don't want to hear it. I like LeBron way better."
C.J.: "I just like Kobe."
The debate must stop because basketball practice has already started at Peachtree Ridge and the two are missing it. It is not kitchen talk time. They don't have infinite time to debate the bona fides of two of the NBA's greatest players. But by the time this short spat ends, each is equally annoyed at the other. Heyward more than Blackwell because LeBron lacks Kobe's championships, but neither is satisfied with the other's refusal to concede the point.
But once they reach their own court, they are again on the same team. The debate can wait until the step-brothers get home.
"Do we argue about anything but sports?" Blackwell asks. Heyward sits silently, thinking ... for a while.
"We argue about the front seat," he says.
"Everybody does. We call it weeks in advance," Blackwell responds.
Blackwell and Heyward played basketball together before they lived under the same roof and the two easily made the transition from teammates to family.
"We were comfortable before," Blackwell says.
That comfort only grew over the five years since Blackwell's father married Heyward's mother. The same age, the two interact like fraternal twins. Their love of sports -- basketball especially -- transcends their differences. Heyward is quiet and withdrawn. He admits he would rather stay home and play video games. Blackwell hates to be at home. He tries to get Heyward to go out with him. It rarely works.
On the court, the differences fade. Their sizes dictate different positions. Heyward is a physical guard and Blackwell plays forward. But each has their own athletic family pedigree. Blackwell's father, Corey, played in the NBA after a successful college career at Wisconsin. Heyward's father is late NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. Both are second siblings at Peachtree Ridge. Blackwell's older sister, Amber, played basketball for the Lions and now plays at Carson-Newman. Heyward's brother, Cameron, played football and basketball and now plays defensive line at Ohio State.
When the elder two return on college breaks, the conversations continue.
"We have kitchen talk," Blackwell says. "We will sit there for hours.
"We talk about everything. It will start off with something about basketball and end up with the weirdest things from video games to everything."
The two learned from watching their older siblings and parents, but they learned the most from Cameron.
"Cameron was a workhorse," Heyward says. "He was just everywhere on the court. He was the biggest dude on the court and just worked hard."
"He kept his image clean and everything," Blackwell said.
As juniors and starters, the two step-brothers are now trying to build on what Cameron started for Peachtree Ridge basketball. They both remember skipping the Lions' Region 7-AAAAA win over Norcross when they were in eighth grade.
"I thought we were going to lose," Heyward says of the game against the defending and future state champs.
They don't want big wins to be upsets any longer. They want big wins to be expected and recognized. Peachtree Ridge, in part because of Cameron Heyward and a state championship, established itself early in its existence as a football school. But this Heyward, who shed football after junior high, and Blackwell want basketball to reach the same level.
It's a process.
"We are getting more fans and everything," Blackwell says. "But we still have to ask the athletic director to announce our basketball games. He announces football."
And that's the challenge. Both agree winning is the solution. It's the one thing they agree LeBron and Kobe both do well.
"We want to make this a basketball school and not just a football school," Heyward says.
Blackwell agrees: "Just win. We have a good team. We have talent. We just have to work harder than anyone else. That is how we are going to get it done."