Friday, March 4, 2011

Championships could run in family for Tummala siblings

Phoenix, AZ: Shilpa Tummala idolized her older brother Sai Tummala. Whatever he did, she wanted to do.

So when Sai started playing basketball as a kid, Shilpa took up the game. Soon, their hobby became a passion, the years passed and they became neighbors in high school, Shilpa at Phoenix St. Mary's and Sai at Phoenix Brophy College Preparatory.

Today, the Tummalas' shared love of the game could turn into a dual championship celebration.

St. Mary's advanced to the Class 5A Division I title game with an easy 71-42 victory over Phoenix Xavier, and Brophy will play in the final boys' game of the year after dispatching Mesa High and Arizona State-bound point guard Jahii Carson, 96-82.

"We talked about this," Sai said. "It just shows how much we worked and the effort we put in. It's important to the family."

We'll get back to Brophy and the Tummalas in a moment, but one final word about Carson:

His 58 points Thursday may have been the greatest individual performance I've seen from a high school basketball player. Call Carson a ball hog if you want - he took 38 shots, the rest of the team 22 - but his scoring was the only thing that kept Mesa somewhat close through three quarters.

Carson would have flown by 60 had he not fouled out with 1:35 remaining after getting an offensive foul and then throwing the ball at the official in frustration.

"We said, 'We'll let him score but just don't let anybody else contribute,' " Sai said.

The strategy worked. Carson got his career high but Mesa never had a chance.

Brophy, meanwhile, has a chance to bring home the school's first basketball title. It reached the state championship game twice, in 1986 and 2001, only to lose both times.

Brophy coach Tony Fuller downplayed the prospects of the school finally winning some basketball hardware. With a laugh, he said, "We've won so many state championships at Brophy. One state championship doesn't mean a lot."

Ah, but the first one always does.

This Brophy team may not have a player with Carson's skills, but it's well coached and the kids know their roles. They had four players score in double figures Thursday and 21 assists on their 29 field goals. To put that in perspective, Mesa had six assists on its 33 buckets.

Sai Tummala was a big reason for Brophy's dominance. The senior forward had 17 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 8 of 11 from the field. Like everything else about Brophy, he's understated on the court but effective.

Sai laughed when he recalled Shilpa following him around as kids. Sometimes, she would leave her kindergarten class and walk over to his class just to be near him.

The Tummalas are competitive but not to the point that their relationship has suffered for it.

Shilpa will admit her older brother is a "really good player but put us on a boy to girl level, and I think I'm better."

Sai's response?

"It's definitely not her."

Shilpa has yet to beat her brother one-on-one but given he's 6-foot-7 with long arms, that's understandable. So is this: Would he ever hear the end of it if you did beat him?

"No," she said with a smile.

For now, though, their sibling rivalry is on hold. They both have more pressing matters:

Winning a state championship for their school.

"I want the best for him, and he wants the best for me," Shilpa said.

Both of their wishes may soon come true.
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