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Brotherly love for the game

Brothers Jes-wa (right) and Joaquim Harris embrace before their basketball teams compete in the Friday, Jan. 26, "Coaches vs. Cancer" game. Jes-wa is the head coach at Carlton, while brother Joaquim is the new head coach at South Ridge High School this season. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 3
The Carlton and South Ridge boys' basketball teams post for a photo together. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
South Ridge's Nick Carlson shoots the ball against Carlton on Jan. 26. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 3

Very seldom do siblings end up coaching against each other, but even more rare is when those siblings are self-described "U.S. Air Force brats" who were born in New York City and spent years moving to new cities across the globe before suddenly finding themselves in northern Minnesota.

Such was the case Friday, Jan. 26, when Joaquim and Jes-wa Harris faced off as coaches of the South Ridge and Carlton boys basketball teams, respectively, in a game Carlton won 85-73.

"Joaquim and I are U.S. Air Force brats and the children of two enlisted military parents," said Carlton coach Jes-wa Harris, the younger of the two brothers. "We were born in New York and moved to Arizona and then to California until our parents were separated by duty assignments."

Eventually, Jes-wa moved to New Mexico, while Joaquim stayed in California. Jes-wa then moved to Turkey with his father and ended up in the middle of the Gulf War.

On Friday, the Bulldogs raced out to a quick 49-35 halftime lead and parlayed that into a 85-73 win.

"We grabbed that early lead, which I thought was key," Jes-wa said. "I did not want our guys to play like the pressure was on. I knew South Ridge would press and trap if they could get us to speed up our play."

While Jes-wa Harris was happy with the quick start, Joaquim had to make some adjustments to get his South Ridge Panthers back in the game.

"Carlton had nice floor balance and they were able to get out in transition and get some easy baskets and they did a better job on the boards," Joaquim said. "To be honest, it was me trying to beat my own system. Carlton runs plays I created specifically for what they do best. They ran them better. They also have the advantage of running the system a lot longer than the South Ridge guys, who just learned it a few months ago."

South Ridge bounced back to outscore the Bulldogs 38-36 in the second half behind a strong performance of Nick Carlson, who had 34 points.

"Nick can score at will and is a utility type player who can fill whatever role is needed," Joaquim said. "If he needs to, he can run the point, post up or defend a guard or center."

The Bulldogs had five players in double-digit scoring, with Matt Hey dropping in 20 points; Leif Herman with 18; Jacob Sankuyl chipped in 14; Jackson Mickle tossed in 12; and Jason Parker added 10. Other Carlton scorers were Matthew Sankuyl with seven and Mateo Garcia and Miles Bennet with two each.

While the Harris brothers have not coached against each other in the past, they have coached together, with Jes-wa assisting when Joaquim was the head girls coach at Duluth East. The roles reversed with Joaquim assisting Jes-wa in the Carlton boys program last season.

Beyond Carlson's scoring exploits, South Ridge also had double-figure scoring from Nick Larson, who had 11 points followed by a nine-point effort from Tristin Paulson, six from Jayton Nelson, Ben Wood adding five and Kaden Palmi adding four, while Brant Erikson and Logan Young chipped in two each.

"Coaching against my brother brought up so many emotions," Jes-wa said. "It is a privilege to be the head coach of a high school basketball program. Knowing that we both are coaches speaks about the people we have become. I hope I made my brother proud I am extremely grateful for him teaching me the game of basketball. Once the ball was in play, it was about our team and watching them get better."

For the elder Harris, coming back to Carlton was fun and emotional as well.

"Carlton is a great community and I received a lot of love and respect when I came into the gym," Joaquim said. "Seeing my brother on the other bench was weird, but I am very proud of what he is doing with his team."

The evening not only featured a solid basketball matchup, but it also was part of the "Coaches vs Cancer" promotion — a nation and statewide effort to raise awareness, raise funding and to honor cancer survivors. Nearly every high school in northern Minnesota is hosting some type of similar event this winter.

The Harris brothers, not surprisingly, have many of the same thoughts and ideas about the game of basketball and how it has delivered many opportunities in their direction. They also are quick to impart their life lessons with their players in hopes of building not only quality players, but quality young men as well.

"I have worked with at-risk youth for 21 years. Encouraging, teaching and supporting young people is part of who I am," Joaquim said. "Coaching is just another avenue to positively impact young people. I teach my players to believe in themselves, to challenge themselves and to care about one another. It's not about me; it's about we."