Many teams throw out the word “family” to describe themselves.
For the boys basketball team at Clever High School, which features two sets of twins, family is an apt description.
Senior Jakob Partee spent much of his career playing alongside Jared and Derek Sopok and Mark and Matt Christoffer. The 6-foot-6 Partee is the anomaly in a loaded senior class.
“I don’t have a twin, unfortunately. I wish I did,” Partee said.
Partee (pronounced “par-TEE”) serves as the leading scorer and the adhesive that holds together Clever’s roster full of seniors, who hope to close their careers with a lasting legacy.
“For people watching from the outside, I think it’s a little crazy looking, but for me, it’s just second nature now. I’ve played with them for so long,” Partee said of the twins. “They treat everybody like their brother.”
Apart from their jersey numbers, the twins can be distinguished on the court by some physical traits. Jared Sopok sports short hair while his brother Jared has longer hair and a beard. Matt Christoffer plays while wearing a set of tinted goggles because he is blind in his right eye due to a childhood accident.
The Christoffers are also known to harp on each other a bit more than the Sopoks, at least on the basketball court. However, coach Luke Brosius says any small skirmishes among the twins come from a desire to win basketball games.
“I think it’s huge,” Brosius said of his team’s brotherly relations. “That brings us that much closer. All of these guys are pretty unselfish kids that really just want to do it for each other and have an opportunity to succeed for each other.”
Clever hasn’t advanced beyond its district tournament since it reached the boys basketball Class 2 state semifinals in 2010. The Blue Jays (21-5) face Springfield Catholic Thursday night in Fair Grove in the Class 3 District 11 semifinals.
Advancing will be difficult considering that the Fightin’ Irish (19-7) have won 11 of their last 12 games. A win will send Catholic or Clever to Saturday’s district championship game against either Fair Grove (21-5) or Strafford (14-9), both just as formidable.
Conventional sports wisdom says a team full of seniors would play fast and loose in a playoff environment, but Clever looked tense in a low-scoring 39-27 win over Hollister Tuesday night in the opening round of the district playoffs.
Brosius admits his five seniors likely entered the game against Hollister with heavy thoughts.
“We talked about legacy before the game, the legacy they wanted to leave. I think those guys are definitely thinking about stuff like that. They’ve had great careers, but unfortunately the postseason has bit us a little bit,” Brosius said.
Hollister used ball control and zone defense to hold Clever to a 14-4 lead at halftime, but the Blue Jays took off to score 17 points in the fourth quarter to grind out a win. Partee finished with 19 points.
“I think there is a little bit of nervousness, but not much because we know we’ve done everything we can and all we have to do is go out there and play hard,” Partee said. “We’ve had a great season, we’ve enjoyed ourselves, we had a great time with each other, and I think that’s all going to pay off.”
They are tasked with trying to escape one of the most difficult basketball districts in the state, but Clever’s five seniors are united in their effort.
“They’re really close. They’ve been playing together for about 9-10 years, some of them even since they were in kindergarten,” Brosius said. “They definitely embody a family within a team.”