EAST CHICAGO — "I'm going to tell you a story," said Tai-Yanna Jackson, putting her feet up on the stands at E.C. Central like she's sitting on a couch.
Then she tells this tale:
When she and her twin sister, Tiara, were little, they were told to color the same picture. Then someone had to choose between the two, determine which one was better.
"They chose mine, and she started crying," Tai-Yanna said. "That's when I told my gramma, 'We're not picking nothing between us again.'"
And they haven't.
When the E.C. Central basketball freshmen go to the park to play pickup ball, they're on the same team.
"Someone tries to put her on the other team, I just tell them, 'She can be on my team,'" Tiara said.
They even try to avoid one-on-one ball against each other.
Instead, they stay two peas in a pod, feeding off of the other's better qualities.
"She posts up better than I do," Tiara said.
"She's a good free-throw shooter," Tai-Yanna said.
At 6-foot-5 (Tai-Yanna) and 6-3 (Tiara), they pose a problem in the post for most teams on the Cardinals' schedule.
"The biggest benefit, other than their height on offense, is on defense — their ability to alter shots on the defensive end," E.C. coach Eric Kundich said. "Their ability to block shots and turn a decent shot, a shot that any other time would be a decent shot for the other team, the ability to throw that off and disrupt the vision of the player has really helped us. With our style of pressure out front with our guards, we don't fear getting beat on the perimeter, because we know we have Tiara and Tai-Yanna to help under the basket."
Tai-Yanna is averaging 11.0 rebounds and 9.9 points per game for the Cardinals. Tiara is averaging 8.5 rebounds and 4.2 points per game.
Tai-Yanna is right-handed; Tiara is left-handed, but in learning with her sister, Tiara was always taught to shoot with her right hand.
"We were even cut in the same place on the same day," Tiara said.
On Saturday, when Tai-Yanna came out of a game because she found blood on her arm, Tiara entered for her, then had to leave for the same reason.
"Having both is great, because they're different types of players," Kundich said. "I think they don't do the same things on the floor, so it's easy to put them out there together. They complement our guards really well, too. Tai-Yanna is better with her back to the basket, and Tiara, I think, is a little better reading the passing lanes and off the rebounds."
That's not to say there's not still some learning to be done for the freshmen. Both have offseason work to do in the weight room, becoming bigger, faster and stronger under the basket.
Tai-Yanna has received more attention from colleges than her sister, but she learned from the coloring contest what happens when one is chosen over another.
"My coach told me to say that if a good school is looking at me, to tell them that they have to take both of us if they want one," Tai-Yanna said.