MEMPHIS -- As a proud mother and basketball fan, Angie Hollins made a point to scan high school boxscores in her newspaper every morning. One name kept catching her attention.
A. Hollins, Memphis White Station.
“I’m like, who is this?” she wondered.
Hollins found it randomly intriguing because that’s also her son’s first initial and last name, except Austin played at a rival high school. Maybe, Angie thought, she should introduce herself to the other Hollins’ parents when the two teams played. The parents sat on opposite sides of the court. Their sons — Austin, then a sophomore, and Andre, a freshman — wore the same jersey number (No. 20) and even guarded each other a few times.
Afterward, Angie approached Donna and Andrew Hollins as they walked toward the exit.
“We were just like, ‘Who are you?’ ” Donna said, and they laughed and shared their family histories.
The families had no way of knowing their initial encounter years ago would blossom into a friendship that continues today, their lives intertwined by a hometown, a last name and a mutual path shared by their sons.
Andre and Austin are starting guards on a Gophers team that enters the Big Ten tournament this week desperate for a fresh start after their once-promising season unraveled, from a 15-1 record and a No. 8 national ranking to 20-11 and a No. 9 seed in the conference tournament. The Gophers’ overall résumé still should earn them a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010, but their erratic performance the past two months inspires little confidence entering the postseason.
“That was a tough time,” Andre said, “but I think it made us stronger.”
The Gophers sure hope that’s the case and that the Hollins tandem can regain their shooting touch. Andre leads the team in scoring (13.9 points per game) and Austin is the team’s best defender, but their offensive struggles have contributed to the team’s unpredictable nature.
“Our play definitely affects how the team goes,” said Andre.
In many ways, it’s fitting the Gophers’ tournament hopes hinge largely on the Hollins’ production and leadership. Their lives off the court share enough commonalities that their parents actually explored their family trees to determine if there is a relation. They didn’t find a connection, but that hasn’t stopped their sons from pretending to be brothers, or “little bro,” as Austin often refers to Andre. It’s become a running joke between them and a standard disclaimer for TV announcers calling their games.
No, they’re not related — Austin is the youngest of four children; Andre is an only child — but as the families grew closer, they discovered subtle quirks that, when viewed in totality, make them wonder if they don’t share some cosmic connection. Andre’s father was born on Oct. 18; Austin’s father, Lionel, has an Oct. 19 birthday.
The sons plan a special day with their mothers every summer. They took their moms to brunch and to see a movie last summer. Angie and Donna arrived wearing almost identical outfits. At lunch, Donna’s phone rang. She had the same jazz song as her ringtone that Angie has programmed into her phone. The moms call each other “sis” in text messages and conversations.
Ask them separately about their son’s early years and their answers are eerily similar.
“Always my happy child,” Angie said. “He would wake up with a smile on his face.”
Said Donna: “When Andre would wake up in the mornings, every morning he had a smile on his face. Without fail, he would raise up and have that smile on his face.”
Basketball is their bond, but the pair also understand the importance of education and finding balance in life. Andre carries a 3.0 grade-point average in the Carlson School of Management and was accepted to Harvard and Stanford. Austin majors in business and marketing education, plays the piano by ear and began writing poetry in high school. He wrote one poem entitled “A Feeling of Failure” during a difficult time. He can’t remember the circumstance, but one section of the poem seems applicable now as he tries to distance himself from a rough stretch on the court.