“People think we’re alike, but we’re different.”
Dei Jengmer understands why some assume he and his younger brother, Gil, are similar. Maybe in stature they are — Dei, Grand Island Central Catholic’s senior big, is 6-foot-9 while Gil, a junior, is 6-8. Together, they form an intimidating front court for the Crusaders, who will play for the Class C-2 state championship Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.
But, like Dei said, there are slight differences between the two.
Dei was born in Dallas, Texas; Gil in Grand Island. Dei is a big fan of wings with barbeque sauce; Gil opts for pizza. They both like playing 2K, but with different teams — Dei uses Brooklyn to ball with Kevin Durant; Gil likes using the Lakers for, well, obvious reasons.
Their father is from South Sudan while their mother is from Ethiopia. They both work a lot in Grand Island, but are planning on watching their kids in the championship game. Dei and Gil are proud of where they come from. They’re both bright kids, too. Dei knows two languages — English and his native Nuer.
Dei has always been into basketball and started playing in the second grade. Gil was originally a soccer player, but he outgrew the sport and instead got interested in basketball and football.
One thing that is true for both is the fact that they like playing with each other. That was obvious in their semifinal win over Hartington Cedar Catholic, where Gill scored 13 points and Dei 12.
“We kind of have a chemistry, so when we’re on the same court it’s fun,” Dei said.
Said Gil of playing with his brother: “It’s fun because I don’t think a lot of people get those opportunities. It’s hard to guard us inside because of our size obviously, so we have a big advantage.”
Together, Dei and Gil came into the state tournament averaging 17.3 points and 9.8 rebounds for head coach Tino Martinez’s ball club, which is just one win away from a state championship.
Both Dei and Gil think there’s been a noticeable jump from their previous seasons. Dei credits his leap on the court to getting into better shape. He dropped from 230 pounds as a junior to 220.
“I cut down on the bad weight and I got in the weight room and the gym a lot,” Dei said. Gil averaged around two points last year, but is up to seven this season, and now starting next to his brother after a late season injury to Koby Bales, who has opted to come off the bench.
The Crusaders finished runner-up last year to Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur, losing by 14 points in the title game. Dei and Gil won’t get the chance for revenge against the Wolverines. Instead, they’ll face all-state guard and Doane University basketball commit, Brady Timm of Yutan.
Timm sent his team into the state championship with a game-winning mid-range jumper over BRLD’s all-state guard Lucas Vogt with two seconds left.
Vogt is listed at 6 feet. So Timm and the Chieftains will have a taller challenge on Saturday, and it starts with a game plan against the Jengmers, who may seem similar, but definitely aren’t.