Tonight, the top two high school basketball teams in the country face off when No. 1 St. Anthony (N.J.) High takes on No. 2 St. Patrick (N.J.) High in an intra-state grudge match. While there will be plenty of national attention and a live webcast covering the game, one of the most important players on the court will have a hard time keeping his mind in the game, just as he always does.
According to the Newark Star-Ledger, there's a good reason for St. Patrick star Derrick Gordon's distraction, too. He's worried about his twin brother, Darryl, who is locked up in a cell at a Youth Correctional center an hour away.
"I've never seen him play a high school game yet," Darryl Gordon told the Star-Ledger. "I was thinking about that the other day. I almost started tearing up."
The Star-Ledger's Matthew Stanmyre paints the gradual separation between the twins as a natural but heartbreaking story of two teens taking different academic paths in high school. Derrick, who chose to break with family tradition and attend St. Patrick to help his college hoops prospects, now plays for the nation's top-ranked high school team and has signed a letter of intent to play at Western Kentucky University. His brother attended Plainfield, just as the twins' older brother, Mike Gordon, had.
While Derrick Gordon scrapped his way up St. Elizabeth's ranks, Darryl Gordon played only a single season on Plainfield's junior varsity team before being convinced his lack of height would keep him from college basketball.
Without basketball to keep him focused, Darryl Gordon began hanging out in Plainfield's drug-riddled West End. Even near constant monitoring by Derrick Gordon via friends at Plainfield couldn't keep his brother in school, with Darryl walking out altogether during his sophomore year.
Like clockwork, Darryl Gordon became involved in a violent incident a year later. In May 2009, Darryl Gordon pulled out a handgun after an argument and fired a series of shots at the man he was arguing with.
Because his target didn't die, Darryl Gordon was charged with attempted murder, then plea-bargained down to a sentence of just more than five years in jail. He will be incarcerated until at least 2014.
To this day, despite all his success, Derrick Gordon blames himself for his brother's downfall.
"It was my fault because maybe if I were to talk to him a lot more he wouldn't have ended up in the situation that he was in," Derrick Gordon told the Star-Ledger. "I did talk to him but clearly I think it was too late for that. I definitely did try, but only if I would have tried earlier then maybe I would have turned him around."
At the same time, Darryl Gordon's struggles have inspired his brother's play. St. Elizabeth's second-leading scorer, he has a tattoo -- MBK for "My Brother's Keeper" -- that keeps his brother's memory ever-present. He plans to wear Darryl's number 5 at Western Kentucky next year. Perhaps most notably, Derrick claims that each time he takes the court, he's playing to make his brother proud.
"Now I'm really playing for something," Gordon told the Star-Ledger. "Every time I play, I'm playing for him."
On Thursday, he'll be playing for his brother under the brightest lights possible, even if the one person Derrick Gordon wishes was watching most is one of the few who won't be able to.