When they were little kids, they'd fight over anything and everything, such as which one was better at board games or whose turn it was to tidy up the bedroom. These days they can still go 12 rounds over which direction to turn at a stop sign. At no time, however, does familiarity breed more contempt between Penn State guards Joe and Jon Crispin than when they square off on the basketball court. Says their father, Steve, "I can't remember a single game of one-on-one that ever got finished."
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, for whom the Crispin brothers make up the starting back-court, the sibling rivals are also pretty good teammates. That was never truer than on Nov. 25, when Joe, a senior, and Jon, a sophomore, scored 31 and 26 points, respectively—both career highs—and made a combined 13 of 23 three-pointers in a 73-68 win at Kentucky. Eleven days later Joe scored 36 in an 88-74 defeat of Pitt. The Crispins may not be turning Happy Valley into the city of brotherly love, but in providing over 40% of the 5-1 Nittany Lions' points and nearly two thirds of Penn State's three-pointers, they're proving to be a formidable team within the team.
Shared DNA aside, the Crispin brothers could hardly be more different. Whereas Jon is the life of the party, Joe is the life of the Bible-study group. When Jon was still at Pitman ( N.J.) High, he visited Joe frequently at Penn State, and he would usually end up going to frat parties with Joe's buddies while Joe stayed home. This Halloween, Jon dressed up as an athletic supporter, donning Penn State garb and a jockstrap stuffed with hats and socks. Joe, on the other hand, eschewed a costume and simply wore a flannel shirt and jeans. "We don't even look alike," Joe says.
Their playing styles are also a study in contrasts. Joe is the point guard, a steady anchor who was lightly recruited while leading Pitman to a Group I state championship in his senior year. Last season Joe led the Big Ten in foul shooting (89.2%) and was third in scoring average (18.5 points a game). Jon, a shooting guard, is a better athlete than his brother, but he's more likely to let his emotions get the best of him. He also garnered considerably more recruiting interest until a back injury suffered before his senior year frightened off many of his more prominent suitors, including Kentucky.
When Jon announced he would follow Joe to Penn State, the boys' parents wondered aloud whether that was a good idea. Jon, however, saw the advantages in teaming up. "We've always made each other better," he says. "Besides, I'd been up there so often, the other players were calling me a third-year freshman."
For all their differences, the Crispins share a competitive desire that shines through when they are fighting someone other than each other. When their mother, Sue, congratulated Joe after the Kentucky win, he surprised her by replying, "Jon really came up big."
Says Sue, "That was neat because Joe rarely gives Jon a direct compliment. It showed me that they really do have a mutual respect. If they were choosing teams in a pickup game, one brother would choose the other."