Cartwright and Jok's hoop dreams reach the City of Brotherly Love
Despite drastically different upbringings, Cartwrights and Joks have formed brotherly bonds through basketball
November 11, 2011, 3:07 am·
Pete Lodato | DP
“It’s crazy to see how you grow up with people through basketball.” – Penn sophomore guard Miles Cartwright
One pair of brothers grew up in the prototypical basketball environment. The other rarely even encountered the sport in their home country. Yet both the Cartwrights and Joks found their callings in basketball, which has carried them to unforeseen heights.
The YMCA down the corner was too full for Ramon Cartwright’s liking. His boys needed room to breathe, room to focus. Ballplayers aren’t bred in overcrowded gyms, but in backyards, front yards, driveways, garages, anywhere secluded from watchful eyes and trash-talking mouths.
So Ramon, a former college player himself, brought the game to his boys, Miles and Parker, placing a ball in their cribs and, later, a hoop in front of their Van Nuys, Calif., home.
Miles, now a Penn sophomore, remembers the give-and-gos. He and his younger brother would throw Dad a pass and quickly cut to the rim for a layup. Over and over and over.
Parker, now a sophomore at Loyola High School, remembers the dribbling drills. Bouncing an extra-large basketball and then a tennis ball until he gained total command of both. Rinse, dribble some more, repeat.
These boys — who began playing at ages five and two, respectively — would become point guards. Their development would occur simultaneously, so that even when Miles played in his own game, Parker would observe from the sidelines, a bouncing ball always at his fingertips.
“Just watching him and seeing the incredible things he could do,” Parker says from Van Nuys, “made me want to be at that level.”
The two were inseparable, joining the same AAU team from the time they were seven and four years old. But when they lined up across from each other — in opposition — the amity became a rivalry.
“We would always fight about 1-on-1,” says 5-foot-10 Parker.
“I’d definitely beat him,” says 6-3 Miles at the Palestra before a Monday practice. “I’m not big or strong, but I’m stronger than him.”
“I wouldn’t say that’s true,” Parker responds hours later when informed of his brother’s boast. “He knows I could just get by him whenever I want.”
Miles’ dominance fostered the swagger that made him a three-year captain at Loyola and a gift to Penn as a three-star recruit.
The spotlight has since shifted to Parker, whose on-court bullying at the hands of his brother instilled in him “that mental toughness, that killer instinct” characteristic of the great ones. ESPN scouts already labeled him the best L.A. point guard since SoCal legend Baron Davis. With Miles’ guidance, Parker is now sorting through offers from a boatload of top college programs, led by USC and UCLA.
“It feels great to know that other people are acknowledging my skills and all the hard work I put in,” Parker says.
Dau and Peter Jok played soccer. Soccer in Rumbek, soccer in Mbarara, soccer in Kampala. Soccer anywhere, any day of the week.
“Come home from school, take your shirt off, go back to play soccer,” Dau recalls of life in Africa. “That’s your lunch, that’s your dinner.”
For the Joks, basketball was a foreign concept, an unreachable treasure. The basketball community back home was microscopic, the games played behind remote churches and ministries. “You can’t just find them in plain sight,” Dau says.
And when the boys — members of the Dinka tribe, the tallest people in the world — ventured to observe the phenomenon of “basketball,” the sight they encountered was staggering.
“These guys are like aliens — 6-9, seven-footers,” Dau, who measures in at 6-4, still marvels. “Everyone’s dunking ’cause that’s the cool thing to do. I’ve never seen anyone shoot on that court.”
How that environment produced Dau and Peter, two guards touted for their three-point strokes, is a testament to basketball’s magnetic power.
In a “hard-nosed” hoops haven — as Dau called Des Moines, Iowa, where they fled to in 2003 — the two brothers spun golden games from straw circumstances.
Dau worked because he was “sick of riding the bench.”
Through blistering cold, he would make the three-mile trek to the ‘Y,’ where he’d spend as many as nine hours a day — beginning with the 20-minute wait until he could feel his hands. Half the time would consist of observation, as he studied the quirks of each player’s shot. Then he would be ready for experimentation: two or three thousand shots launched a hundred different ways.
“What’s preventing you from being the best shooter in the country?” his friend Branden Stubbs, now a guard at Iowa, would ask. Nothing, Dau would remind himself.
Peter worked because he wanted McDonald’s. “I tried out [for AAU in fifth grade] and I didn’t like it, so I was gonna quit, but then [the coach] took me to McDonald’s,” he recalls. “So I went to practice just for McDonald’s.”
In Peter, Dau sees unlimited potential. He speaks of his 6-7 younger brother with father-like pride, for Dau essentially raised Peter after their father was murdered by Arab soldiers when they were toddlers. “I know for a fact that he’s the best player in the country,” Dau declares.
Dau considers Peter’s athletic gifts a blessing. His role, he believes, is to instill that same appreciation into his younger brother by warning him of potential traps that lead to failure. “Every day I pray that he … has the best possible career he can have,” says the older brother.
“He always tells me what to do,” says the younger brother. “He always looks out for me.”
To the Joks, basketball is “an avenue” to success and away from danger.
“I’m glad he chose basketball,” Dau says of Peter.
And that basketball chose him.