Mark Stensgard put a hoop in his family’s basement when his sons, Jack and Sam, were just youngsters. It’s a nine-foot hoop with sport-court tiles on the floor.

“That’s when we did all of our fun stuff,” said Jack, now a Simley sophomore. “He’d rebound for us. He always wanted to see us improve and see us get better.”

But it wasn’t always smiles and laughter.

“Not only did we get to shoot every day, but we had a lot of battles when we were younger,” said Sam, a junior for the Spartans. “Especially when we were younger, people would cry. It’s gotten a lot more mature now, but it’s always been fun.”

Mark coached Jack and Sam beginning in kindergarten. He continued through traveling basketball and still helps out during the offseason for the varsity program.

Both Mark and his wife Lynette attend almost every game and provide advice when needed. Mark played college ball for Winona State, Lynette played for Lake Superior State.

“Yeah, we kind of brainwashed them early to play basketball,” Mark said. “Obviously they loved playing anyway, so it was pretty easy.”

It appears to be paying dividends for Simley, which is off to its best start in 15 years. The Spartans began the season 5-0. After Tuesday’s victory over South St. Paul, Simley was 11-3.

The Stensgards are leading the Spartans in scoring. Sam is averaging 15.6 points per game, Jack 14.3.

Coach Ben Bushaw said the siblings “have played together so long that they know each others’ games well and seem to know where each will be on the floor. They have great overall basketball skills and understanding of the game.

“They are doing a great job this season of leading us in scoring, decision-making and team play. They are the players they are today because of the great work ethic they both possess.”

Jack’s special on threes

Jack is the three-point threat. Growing up, he was always smaller, so he didn’t attack the net too often. It forced him to develop strong long-range shooting. Bushaw has challenged him to work on his shot from even farther out.

“Now, if he takes a few steps over the half line and he is open, he lets it fly,” Bushaw said. “Last season, Jack made 10 three-point shots in one game. Our coaching staff calls Jack’s three-point shot a layup.”

If Jack is hot with the three-pointer, it opens up many other options for Simley to execute offensively.

Sam has a stronger midrange game, which complements his brother well. He can drive, pull up, and shoot from the outside as well.

“It’s a lot of fun because we both know what we can do,” Jack said. “He wants to get me open and I want to get him open. We both want each other to score and have good games. When we both are scoring, we usually win.”

Three years ago, Sam saw varsity playing time as an eighth-grader on a team finished 7-20. The Spartans were 7-20 again the following season, with Sam playing regularly as a ninth-grader and Jack on the junior varsity squad.

Last season the Spartans improved to 12-15. Now, they are aiming for a 20-win season and are more than halfway there.

“Just to know that it could get even better here now and, when I get older, is really exciting,” Jack said.