The wonder of it may be that Michael Rotay and Frank Grzywacz still speak to each other.
Familiarity is supposed to breed contempt and, after 12 years of playing basketball together, hundreds of games, thousands of practice hours and scores of bus rides, the two are more than well-acquainted.
But the two Johns Hopkins teammates are still communicating, sometimes silently with a quick pass from one to the favorite shooting spot of the other.
"I've played with Mike since the fourth or fifth grade," said Grzywacz, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound post player. They played with or against each other in recreation leagues in the Philadelphia suburb of Blue Bell; attended the same schools, sometimes as classmates; and as seniors led Wissahickon High School to a 28-2 record and into the semifinal game of the state championships.
Their association with championship tournaments didn't end there. Tonight, Johns Hopkins (19-6) makes its fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs, playing host to Lebanon Valley (17-10) in a first-round game.
"They're winners all the way through," said Blue Jays coach Bill Nelson, the Middle Atlantic Conference Southeast's Coach of the Year for the second straight season.
"There's something to be said about bringing in people from winning programs."
Grzywacz and Rotay, both juniors and two-year starters, are close off the court as well. "We go out together and do things together," Grzywacz said. "We've just had a lot of fun times together."
The two have shared an apartment in a fraternity house for two years. In fact, eight Blue Jay basketball players live in the same house. Did we say they're close? Well, in the classroom Rotay, an economics major, has a 3.23 average. Grzywacz, a biology major looking toward medical school, carries a 3.25. Not enough difference to slip a stat sheet through.
Statistics don't reveal Rotay's value to the team because, Nelson said, the 6-foot guard has been in a shooting slump this year. Still, he's second on the team in steals with 39. "Mike could be our best defensive player," said Nelson. "We have to get on Mike's case sometimes because he'll pass up open shots, but he doesn't turn the ball over."
Grzywacz leads the team in minutes played (31.5 per game), rebounds (7.9) and shooting (.590), and is second in scoring (12.4). "He could be the steadiest guy I've ever coached," Nelson said. "He's a quiet leader out there. . . . If we hadn't tried to recruit Mike, there's no way we'd have ended up with Frank."
But the two players chose their school independently. There were no "buddy" packages extracted, no blood oaths sworn to stay together. Both were being recruited by MAC schools. Both chose Hopkins for academic reasons and because the improving basketball program would offer them a chance to play. Rotay committed first, then two weeks later Grzywacz decided.
One week ago in the MAC South semifinal, Lebanon Valley ended the Blue Jays' 13-game winning streak, 58-54. "It's kind of ironic," said Rotay. "We got beat by them, and now we play them again. . . . When we came here, the program was on the way up and we had a good year. Now, our expectations are a little higher. We want to go farther and make a name for ourselves in the tournament."