Blood Brothers

It's a shame the driveway on Warrenville Road in Mansfield can't talk. Just imagine the stories it could tell about the Olander brothers.

Connecticut sophomore Tyler Olander and Fairfield senior Ryan Olander will provide the undercard for Thursday night's main event between the No. 8 Huskies (9-1) and Fairfield (7-4) at the XL Center in Hartford. For the first time, the Olander family will be split on game night. Tyler and Ryan have been teammates on recreation teams and at E.O. Smith High School. They grew up about eight miles from Gampel Pavilion, almost close enough to hear Jim Calhoun's booming voice on UConn game nights.

But Thursday will be the first time they've played representing opposite sides - with the exception of that driveway at the home of Skip and Tracy Olander.

"We played a lot of one-on-one when we were younger," Tyler said recently. "The games didn't last long. It was really competitive. I love to win and he couldn't let his little brother win. If he got up, I'd start to fight. And if I started winning, he'd start the fight.

"That's how the game would end. My dad would run out of the house and we'd be fighting out on the driveway."

Ryan says he doesn't remember one particular pickup game being any worse than the other. They were all battles built on that unique quality known as brotherly love.

"If someone got close to winning, or made a lucky shot to put them ahead, the other would get mad," Ryan said. "Then there would be a tackle or a cheap shot, followed by a fist or anything you could find for a weapon. You know, a typical brotherly fight. [Our parents] would let us get our hits in for a little bit – until it got out of hand."

Tyler says it got to the point where bans were issued. But that was pretty much impossible to enforce because the two boys were always in the driveway competing at something, whether it was basketball, whiffle ball, or some other sporting activity.

Blood was never drawn, right?

"Oh yeah," Tyler said. "Many times. Many times."

Don't expect any attempt at recapturing their youth in that fashion Thursday night. The Olanders have been affable answering questions about the family feud as the game approaches, but both are focused on helping their teams win a big non-conference game. That means trying to forget about the potential of going head-to-head.

Ryan, 7-foot and 220 pounds, starts at center for the Stags and is Fairfield's second best rebounder (4.1) and scorer (11.9). Tyler, 6-9 and 225, has started seven of UConn's games but has come off the bench the past three games. He is averaging 7.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.

"We have different games," Tyler said. "He's more of a back to the basket type. I'm more of a face up player, which is good for him. I always tried to post him up and he was always taller.

"It's really going to be weird seeing him on the other end of the floor and then guarding him and all that stuff. It's odd because we played together in high school. In rec basketball we were on the same team. I was kind of doing the same thing, looking for him down in the low post. I did a lot of that in high school."

The entire Olander family is trying to take the same approach. Skip and Tracy were athletes. Skip played baseball and basketball at UConn before a 35-year career as coach and athletic director at Tolland High School. Tracy played basketball at Keene State and she maps out the master schedule in the fall and winter for the family to attend the games of the two sons and their sister, Morgan, who is a senior at E.O. Smith and one of the top players in the state.

Family and friends of the Olanders will try to be neutral Thursday night. They understand the game isn't about them. But they are excited - and why not?

It won't be difficult to pick out the Olander clan in the crowd at the XL Center. There could be as many as 30 of them wearing specially designed T-shirts for the game. The front features the hybrid "FairConn" in red and blue letters. One sleeve will bear Tyler's No. 10 in blue. The other has Ryan's red No. 34.

On the back will be the name OLANDER with the phrase "Either Way We Win" below.

Skip handled the distribution of the shirts and the gathering of tickets. It's a UConn home game and all the tickets are in the UConn section. Ryan is OK with that.

"If we're winning [at halftime], they'll probably move over [to the Fairfield section," he said.

Last season, UConn, Fairfield and the E.O. Smith girls combined to win 79 games and lose 20. Fairfield missed a shot at the NCAA tournament when it lost the Metro Atlantic title game to St. Peter's. But Ryan was in Houston with his parents to watch his little brother win the national championship with the Huskies. (Trivia: Tyler scored the first UConn basket in both Final Four games.)

"It was an unreal experience – just being at the Final Four, regardless of the fact that Tyler was playing in it," Ryan said then. "Being able to watch Tyler play in it was just that much more special."

Ryan had no problem rooting for the Huskies in Houston, just as he did most of his life growing up in Mansfield. Both brothers were frequent visitors to Gampel Pavilion when they weren't competing in the driveway.

But once the game begins Thursday, the brothers will be opponents. No cheering for the other side. No letting up when they are guarding each other.

"I think eventually, the way we play defense, I'll be covering him," Tyler said. "We throw so many different big men in there and I'll probably cover him a couple different times during the game.

"It's going to be a lot of fun. Playing against each other is something you never think about and playing together is something we've always done. It's going to be real memorable for family and friends."

The T-shirts may say "Either Way We Win," but the brothers know only one can have bragging rights at the Christmas dinner table this weekend. Ryan seems to be using that as motivation.

"He got the national championship and the Big East," Ryan said. "I have to have something to hold over his head."


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