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North's Munlyns relish chance to play together

Staff Photo: John Bohn Alexis, left, and her sister Alyssa Munlyn play basketball for North Gwinnett. They began playing basketball while very young as their parents played basketball for Georgia Tech.

Staff Photo: John Bohn Alexis, left, and her sister Alyssa Munlyn play basketball for North Gwinnett. They began playing basketball while very young as their parents played basketball for Georgia Tech.

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Staff Photo: John Bohn Alexis, left, and her sister Alyssa Munlyn play basketball for North Gwinnett. Alexis, a senior and Alyssa, a freshman, began playing ball while very young. Their parents played basketball for Georgia Tech.

SUWANEE -- There's only been a few sisterly spats between Alexis and Alyssa Munlyn this year and they've all blown over quickly.

It's easy to see how.

The younger, freshman Alyssa, got first pick at a quirky question on her favorite athlete. She answered Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers highlight reel dunker. Older sister Alexis, independently, came up with the same answer.

When she learned her sister had the same answer, there was a smile, then a head shake.

"I can't believe she said that," Alexis Munlyn said of her younger sister.

It's a bit of sibling sparring, but with the Munlyns it feels like two friends feigning anger.

There's always been a friendship between the sisters, separated by four years in school, but this year it's grown. For the first time, the senior Alexis and the freshman Alyssa are on the same basketball team. They discussed the possibility over summer and Alexis told her younger sister to shoot to make the varsity team at North Gwinnett in her first year. Just like big sister.

"She's very nonchalant about things," Alexis said. "When it comes to basketball she sometimes doesn't have that much enthusiasm so I have to kind of try to push her."

The encouragement helped Alyssa reach that first goal and led to a better sister-sister relationship.

"We've definitely become closer," Alyssa said. "She is my best friend, I talk to her about everything."

Alexis doles out advice and she expects Alyssa to listen. Her biggest piece came after Alyssa learned she would be on varsity.

"I told her to always play hard," Alexis said. "I know when I was a freshman, I didn't play much. If you play as hard as you can and work as hard as you can to make yourself better, there is no way that you won't make it on the floor."

She was right. It's hard for head coach Bryan Sellers to keep the younger Munlyn off the floor. Alexis starts and Alyssa comes off the bench. Alexis is a heady defender, Alyssa a raw speedster with eyes on scoring. They both play under the basketball. They both rebound.

"The best thing I can say about them is that they are good sisters," Sellers said. "They are fun to coach."

Sellers didn't originally plan to keep Alyssa on his bench all season, but during tryouts she established herself as the best athlete on the Bulldogs' team. And Sellers includes Maryland-bound Lexie Brown in that comparison.

Alexis didn't need to see tryouts to know her sister was varsity-worthy.

"I knew it was coming," she said. "There was no way, coach Sellers is a smart man."

And he's been so in his treatment of the sisters. Sellers knows each has different value on his team and uses them accordingly. He knows Alyssa is a raw talent and trusts Alexis to always make the best decisions on the floor.

"She has consistently gotten better over the four years," Sellers said of Alexis. "She is just, as far as rebounding the basketball and just playing good defense, she is just one of those kids that does the little things that makes your team better. She is not going to do anything to get you beat."

The Munlyns come from a basketball family. Both mom and dad played basketball at Georgia Tech. But the two came to the sport free from parental pressure. Alexis started in fifth grade when the family moved back to Georgia from Maryland. Alyssa started as a fourth-grader because she asked to play.

"My parents didn't really pressure basketball too much," Alexis said. "It actually hasn't been basketball all the time, it was something I chose to do. There wasn't a whole lot of pressure."

But here they are. The sisters' one chance to play together, to be on the same team. Alyssa is soaking up the experience and Alexis focuses on each day.

The elder Munlyn doesn't want her final season to end and pushes the thoughts away. She calls the basketball team her second family, but with a sister to share it with, it's more family now than ever.

"It's been a lot of fun," Alyssa said. "It's just like a whole new thing, high school. I love basketball and being here with my sister. I am not here on my own, my sister is here to help me through the way and it's been really good."