If it wasnâ€™t for different jersey numbers and a slight difference in height, you would swear East Lincoln had cloned its best player.
Why? Both No. 5 and No. 10 can shoot the three, both can take their man off the dribble, can dunk the basketball, both can light up the scoreboard and both put their faith in Christ.
With that being the case, it may seem the Mustangs have tinkered in the DNA department, but they havenâ€™t. They simply have two seniors in Jamelle Lowery and Trishtan Johnson who can beat you on any given night.
Nearly every time Lowery and Johnson step on the court, East Lincoln already has a 37-0 lead. Entering tonightâ€™s game, Johnson is averaging 21 points per contest, while his running partner and best friend is netting 16 per game.
Itâ€™s that consistent scoring that has helped the Mustangs to a 10-3 record with a 3-0 mark in the Southern Piedmont. With the two-headed monster known as â€œTJ,â€ opponents truly do pick their own poison.
â€œIf teams are going to key on him, that opens up opportunities for me. Having another scorer on the team takes pressure off me,â€ Lowery said.
â€œJamelle is a big help. To the defenders, he has a presence. I donâ€™t know he just takes the pressure off me.â€
Every day in the off season, â€œTJâ€ would hit the gym. Whether it was competitive one-on-one games or shooting drills, the pair was bouncing a basketball and hoisting jump shots somewhere.
And for those who saw the two play last year when Johnson was leading North Lincoln deep into the 1A playoffs and Lowery was helping the Mustangs win games in the Big South 3A, not much has changed. But if you look a little closer, the improvement is undoubtedly there.
â€œItâ€™s helped me a lot. If you play against players better than you or as good as you, itâ€™s going to make your overall game better. When you play against somebody that is as quick as you, you have to adjust and that makes you an all-around player,â€ Lowery said.
Backcourt mates and best friends, both Lowery and Johnson have big goals for this season. Both want to win the Southern Piedmont title, both want to win 20 games or more and both want to go deep into the 2A playoffs.
â€œWe want to win the conference. We have to crawl before we walk,â€ Johnson said of his dreams of winning a state title.
Whether theyâ€™re burning up minutes on the phone or burning up minutes on the hardwood helping the Mustangs win games, their close friendship is essential to the teamâ€™s success.
â€œWeâ€™ve gotten real close. For us to have a good team, we have to see eye to eye because weâ€™re the two leaders of the team,â€ Lowery said. â€œIf we donâ€™t see eye to eye, the team is going to fall apart, so we just got to stay together,â€ he added.
Johnson looks at Lowery almost like another brother. Thatâ€™s how deep their friendship runs.
â€œWeâ€™re tight. Heâ€™s my best friend. He keeps picking me up at my worst times and making me laugh,â€ Johnson said.
Thus far, the 6 foot Johnson and 5 foot 11 inches Lowery havenâ€™t garnered tons of college interest. Gardner Webb, Methodist and Emory Henry have sent letters, but nobody has offered a scholarship to â€œTJ.â€
At the completion of the season, thatâ€™s likely to change.
Lincolntonâ€™s all-time leading scorer Eric Wilson compares Lowery and Johnson to the special duo he and Darren Wilson comprised.
â€œ(Eric) was my childhood friend, and he always had confidence in me even when nobody else would. He says Iâ€™m a lot better than what I think I am,â€ the Lowery said.
If anybody knows talent and what it takes to play college basketball, itâ€™s Wilson who went from being a walk-on to a starter on scholarship at Western Carolina in just one year.
â€œTJâ€ has a great support system off the court and both regularly thank God for the ability to play basketball.
â€œWhen our whole team is struggling, I have faith Heâ€™ll bring us out. I wonâ€™t hold my head down. I just look forth to where my help comes from and thatâ€™s the Lord,â€ Lowery said.
Before games, Lowery, Johnson and fellow senior Thomas Huntley will get together and say a prayer.
The time spent huddled together is not a show, but a way to let God know their thankful for being able to take the court.
Perhaps whatâ€™s just as impressive as their ability on the court is the appreciation they both share for life.
â€œJamelle is our leader. Coach (Neil) Hodges and Coach (Chip) Ashley have helped me a lot on my game. My brother and my parents have always supported me,â€ Johnson said.
by John Mark Brooks