WHITEVILLE — When reflecting on their journey as basketball players, Shaun and Tyrell Kirk go back to their battles in the backyard as kids in Whiteville.
“It was rough,” said Tyrell, who is set to begin his freshman year at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
“We used to get mad at each other, go inside (the house), then I’d want a rematch and (Shaun) wouldn’t want that so I’d be mad the rest of the day.”
Shaun, who is entering his third year at N.C. State University, remembers the games in the same light, but said it prepared the duo for the road ahead.
“So many days we went into the house crying because we lost or had busted lips, things like that,” Shaun said. “It really pushed us and helped us get to this level.
“It also helped us become better as people because we understood that not everything is going to go your way. That changed our mindset toward the game of basketball. I’m very thankful to have a little brother to help me learn from that.”
Sons of Neal and Sherry Kirk, the Kirk brothers had similar paths at Whiteville High School. Both earned Three Rivers Conference player of the year honors, as well as District 4 player of the year honors, and played in the NCHSAA East-West All-Star Game.
But their playing styles are different.
Shaun, a 20-year-old junior with the Wolfpack, is a 6-foot-8 forward known for his athleticism. Tyrell, an 18-year-old freshman with the Braves, is a 6-foot-4 guard known for his playmaking ability.
When asked if he dunked on his little brother a lot growing up, Shaun smiled.
“So many times,” he said. “So many times.”
Tyrell didn’t hide when asked about Shaun putting him on a poster, but said he was able to get revenge with a few crossover dribbles.
“He got me a couple of times,” Tyrell said, “and I got him a couple of times.”
But their days of embarrassing each other are over. Now, Shaun is doing everything he can to help Tyrell as he begins his journey as a college basketball player.
“It’s amazing. Coming from a small town, you don’t have many high expectations for a lot of people. Me and my brother, the fact that we’re able to play basketball at a high level, it’s really amazing,” Shaun said.
“I’m thankful I have great parents to help guide me and my brother into this situation. I just tell him every day to do his best and give it his best shot every day. Make everyone as proud as you can.”
Tyrell said “it’s a blessing” to have a brother that is experiencing some of the same things that he’ll go through as a student-athlete at the college level.
“He’s ahead of the game and he knows what it takes,” Tyrell said. “He was saying to expect there to be ups and downs and to keep your head up. … It’s different. It’s a big jump and he told me that a long time ago.”
For Shaun, one piece of advice stands alone when it comes to being in college — whether it’s on the court or in the classroom.
“I told him the biggest thing for him is to never procrastinate and always use your time wisely,” Shaun said. “Time isn’t meant to be wasted. You can’t get time back. Every chance he gets, go work on your game and do as much as possible. … go ahead and give it your all and put your best foot forward and you’ll never have any regrets.”
And Tyrell plans on heeding that advice every step of the way.
“It’s crazy because I never thought it would be like this with both of us in college,” he said. “I listen to whatever he tells me because he’s been through it.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.