This article appears in the December 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Some of the toughest competition Piedmont senior Ashley Paris faces every day begins while she's still lying in the top bunk in the bedroom she shares with her twin sister, Courtney.
You see, the girls sort of make everything a competition. And they open each day with a battle over who scrambles to the shower first for the best hot water.
Their alarm's skull-splitting beeping acts as the starting gun. Sometimes, a little cat-and-mouse gamesmanship emerges when neither budges, an attempt to sandbag the other into hitting snooze. Either way, having to out-hustle her sister from the top bunk puts Ashley — who was born two minutes before Courtney on Sept. 21, 1987 — at a competitive disadvantage.
Of course, that's only one contest of many during the course of a typical day. They battle over who can take the stairs fastest, who wrote the best class paper and even stuff like who's better at badminton.
It's no wonder this duo — both SchoolSports All-Americans, both rated among the Top 10 girls' hoop players in the country and both bound for the University of Oklahoma next year — has led Piedmont to two straight North Coast Section titles and last year's Division IV state crown.
"I truly believe they thrive on competition," says Highlanders third-year head coach Bryan Gardere, 27, a former Piedmont and Kansas Wesleyan University guard. "Almost everything they can touch or get their hands on, they want to be the best at. If it's not one thing, it's another."
Genetically speaking, there's an obvious reason for that. Their dad, William "Bubba" Paris, won three Super Bowl rings as an offensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers from 1982 to 1990. Their uncle, Leonard Gray, played for the Seattle SuperSonics from 1974 to '77. And all four of their brothers have been or currently are Division I college athletes.
The notion that biology is a part of their basketball evolution is not lost on the Paris sisters.
"I guess we've just got a mentality to be that way," says Courtney, a 6-foot-4 senior center who is rated the No. 1 girls' hoop player in the country by recruiting Web site Blue Star Basketball. "We've really taken a lot from our dad's competitive nature. Plus, it's always great playing with someone in your family, let alone a twin. We've got a chemistry on and off the court, and it's fun."
Fun, yes. But the joke is definitely on their unfortunate opponents.
Courtney, a member of this past summer's USA Women's Junior World Championship Qualifying Team, averaged 28.1 points, 18.5 rebounds and five blocks per game as a junior. She entered this season with 2,645 career points and has an outside chance to pass UConn freshman Charde Houston (3,837 points at San Diego High) as the all-time leading scorer in California high school history.
Ashley, a 6-foot-2 senior power forward, is rated the No. 8 girls' hoop player in the country by Blue Star Basketball and, like her sister, was a USA Basketball Youth Development Festival participant this past summer. Ashley averaged 16 points, 12.5 rebounds and five assists per game last year in helping Piedmont to a 33-2 record and the state title.
"The thing you really can't believe is how they move," says Gardere, whose debut season with Piedmont in 2002-03 coincided with the arrival of the Paris twins via transfer from Modesto Christian, where they played as freshmen. "That's one of the most unique things about them, given their size. Courtney can lead the break by herself, and so can Ashley. In fact, Ashley has no problem beating guards down the court. They both shot 50 percent from behind the arc last year.
"In my three years here, I think I've seen Courtney drop one pass," he adds. "She has such soft hands. Sometimes I see our guards throw a pass that I think only Randy Moss could catch, and then she comes down with it. But what's most amazing is they recognize they still need to work hard and improve. They could be content and settle with their college stuff taken care of and a state title under their belt. But they've stayed hungry."
As a result, they're not afraid to listen and learn. After being continuously dominated in practice last season by 6-foot-9 former Piedmont assistant Bill Ewing, who is still Harvard University's all-time leading shot blocker, Courtney developed a jump hook at Ewing's suggestion and started scoring on him. Continuously.
Just as noteworthy is the high regard they have for each other's game.
"The thing I really rely on most is the ability to get the ball to my sister," says Ashley. "I use her a lot in my game, and she makes it easier out on the court because we work off each other a lot. We've played together so long and talked about the sport so much and we're always around each other, so we have a great chemistry on the court."
Perhaps best of all, the twins refuse to take themselves too seriously. Despite years of accolades.
For example, both get as fired up for the school-wide Badminton Tournament of Champions run by the P.E. department as they do for games. With Piedmont senior soccer goalie Rosie Aguilera as their partner in consecutive years, Ashley reached the tournament finals as a junior and Courtney reached the finals this year while wearing a custom-made uniform produced by Gardere's sports-apparel manufacturing company, 4th Quarter Athletics.
"I basically stood back and let Rosie run all over the court, but at least we lost looking good," says Courtney, who entered this season with 1,718 rebounds, 414 assists, 412 blocked shots and 206 steals in her high school career. "We had a great look going on, and they can never take that away from us."
The kidding around is clear evidence of a healthy humility about their skills and accomplishments. Especially given the media storm that's been building around them.
"The attention they're getting is almost ridiculous," says Gardere. "You'd think they were paid professional athletes. But you'd never know from their attitude that they are two of the most highly recruited players ever to come out of California. They never act like they're better or like they want to be treated differently. They know they're very solid and very good, but they never talk about it. They just want to be normal, everyday teammates on a team.
"They do ‘Survivor' TV nights as a team, cookies and milk nights as a team, they write poems about the team, Ashley invents dances for the team, and at last year's team banquet in front of 400 people, they asked to do a reading," he adds. "Here are these two national stars, and they just act like a couple of goofy kids in high school. Amazing."