Last dance for Gary and Lenny

Sunday, October 18, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

[brown and lumpkin]
Lenny Brown and Gary Lumpkin complement each other off and on the court.
(Craig Ruttle photo)

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Gary and Lenny. Lenny and Gary. Lumpkin and Brown. Twin sons of different backgrounds, linked forever by the beat of a basketball. We don't talk about one without talking about the other. That's funny, because they're as different as Cousy and Jordan, Russell and Shaq.

It's their fourth year at Xavier, after more than a decade as basketball teammates. It's also likely their last. By March, they will have their own lives and identities. Now, the public knows them as one. They've learned to accept that, and not resent it.

"That's how it's going to be," Lumpkin says. "You can't say my name without his, or his name without mine. But he has his identity and I have mine. We're our own people. He knows my background, and I know his. He knows that most of the time whatever he does, I probably won't do, and things I do, he might not do. We understand that."

You don't get this kind of education in high school, where you're too young and self-absorbed to understand it. You don't get it as an adult, where you're worrying about other things. You get it in college. It's what college is all about, really. Learning to get along, to adjust, to accept and adapt. Learning there is much to be learned simply by relating to others, hearing their version of life and recognizing its merit, even if it's different from yours. Not everything in those four years is absorbed from a book. Many of the truths that endure are not.

From Lumpkin, Brown has learned humility. From Brown, Lumpkin has learned tenacity. Brown can be withdrawn, but he has benefited from Lumpkin's geniality.

Lumpkin can lack mental toughness, by his own admission. He is a nice guy. He has learned from Brown's absolute courage on the court.

"You never have to question my heart, I know that," Brown says. Gary and Lenny, Lenny and Gary.

Lumpkin listens to gospel music. Brown likes hardcore rap. Hallelujah meets hip-hop. Both are improved for the experience. Brown's basketball idol is Michael Jordan: "He hates to lose at everything. He brings it every day. Incredible."

Lumpkin's is Grant Hill: "A humble person of talent."

On Sundays, maybe Lumpkin is singing in the church choir. Maybe Brown is singing to himself, coccooned in headphones, listening to Tupac trying to make sense of a world Brown knows all too well. "I had it tough growing up," Lumpkin said. "Lenny had it tougher." Gary and Lenny, Lenny and Gary.

Because basketball offers the clearest expression of individual personality of any sport, it's easy to see their differences by watching them play. Brown: Driving, physical, taking his best shot.

"Reckless," Xavier coach Skip Prosser says, meaning it as a compliment.

Lumpkin: "Cerebral," says Prosser, choosing his shots carefully, wanting to do well for others as much as for himself. An explanation for Lumpkin's off shooting year last year may be as simple as this: He has a conscience, and there is no room in a shooter's heart for that.

Lumpkin worries about missing shots; Brown says gimme the damned ball.

Lumpkin is majoring in communications. "I can walk up to someone on the street and have a conversation. I can get along with anybody," he says.

Brown will get a degree in criminal justice. He wouldn't mind teaching elementary school kids. They're easier to trust than adults.

This is their last go-round. It's one final chance to hang a banner at the Gardens. One more year of being perceived as inseparable.

"Has it been an education? That's not the best word to describe it," Lumpkin says. "A learning experience. Lenny is a pretty bright guy. Sometimes, Lenny can be harsh, for lack of a better word. Other times, he can be sensitive. I understand him a lot better after three years here than I ever did before."

Gary and Lenny, Lenny and Gary.

Basketball is the best game for bringing people together. You can't succeed in basketball without help. Jordan is great; he never won a title playing 1-on-5.

Lumpkin and Brown may not get Xavier deeper into March than last year, when the veteran Musketeers lost their opener in the NCAA tournament.

This team doesn't have that team's experience. But the two guards are on time to graduate, Lumpkin in December, Brown in the spring.

They'll each leave Xavier with degrees, and with something else just as powerful: The knowledge that there is room for difference. In fact, difference is preferred. You learn more that way.

Gary and Lenny. Lumpkin is asked for the perfect ending to four years at Xavier. "We both graduate," he says. "We both walk off with a cap and gown, saying, "It was a fun ride.' "

Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.