T.J. and Matt Mickelson are brothers, born just 11 months apart. Between kindergarten and eighth grade, they were also basketball team mates.
Now they play for different high schools, eight miles apart.
T.J. is the star of a Black Hills team off to a 5-4 start. He is averaging 23.5 points and 8.5 assists per game plus taking direction from a coaching staff that includes his father, Troy. A member of the Wolves’ career 1000-point club midway through his junior season, he also shines on defense with three steals per game.
Matt, the younger of the two brothers but also a junior, is a Capital co-captain and the Cougars’ third-leading scorer, averaging eight points per game. He recorded the second-best single-game effort in steals in school history with seven against Aberdeen in Capital’s season opener.
“It’s been good for the boys to go their separate ways for a while and develop their own identities,” Troy said. His sons agree.
“I’m happy with my decision to come here,” T.J. said in the wake of a 34-point performance in a 72-61 win over visiting Eastmont on Saturday night. “At first it was tough to leave all the friends I grew up with and the coaching situation was changing at Black Hills, but everything has fallen into place.”
Matt admits the situation is different than what he envisioned as a child.
“It’s definitely weird,” he said. “My whole life I’d expected to play with my brother and for my dad.”
But given the chance to make the move to Black Hills with T.J., Matt declined.
“I thought about it for a while. T.J. and I have always had chemistry on the court together, but I couldn’t leave,” he said. “There’s a lot of good people at Capital, especially our new coach, Brian Vandiver.”
Vandiver has kind words about Matt’s impact as well.
“Matt is a very unselfish player who is a co-captain because he truly cares about the success of his teammates and the team more than his personal success or stats,” Vandiver said.
Wolves coach Jeff Gallagher had no problem adding Troy, a former assistant coach at Capital, to his staff at the same time T.J. became a student at Black Hills.
“Having a father and son combination is fun,” Gallagher said. “It presents some interesting challenges for Troy and T.J., though.”
Not new challenges, though. Troy began coaching Matt and T.J. in a YMCA league when they were five. While Matt no longer plays AAU ball, Troy still coaches T.J.’s club squad, the Tacoma-based Team Brandon Roy.
“I was pretty critical of them in their younger years. As a father sometimes your expectations are higher than they normally are for other kids on the team,” Troy admits. “Now T.J. understands the game of basketball so well. He’s put in the work.”
NCAA Division I programs such as Brigham Young, Saint Mary’s and Portland have taken notice. T.J. also cites Cal Poly, with longtime Washington coaching figure Joe Callero in charge; Montana, with former Washington State coach Ken Bone on staff; Cornell and WSU, where his sister Kylie is a sophomore, as early recruitment focal points.
“I want to play professionally,” said T.J. “But first I have to do whatever I can to get to the next level.”
Troy doesn’t need to see his sons clear any more hurdles, though.
“I’m already very, very proud of both boys.”