Olander brothers ready for first head-to-head meeting

It will be easy to spot the Olander clan Thursday night.

They will be out in force at the XL Center in Hartford for the UConn-Fairfield basketball game and wearing special t-shirts to commemorate the occasion.

For the first time, UConn sophomore Tyler Olander will play his big brother Ryan, a senior, in an organized game.

It is a must see event for the E.O. Smith of Storrs and Mansfield communities, where the Olander brothers went to high school and grew up.

"We're very excited about it," said proud father Skip. "We have about 30 relatives coming. It's not bigger than the game itself, but it's a big event for our family."

The t-shirts are a Skip Olander design.

On the front, the shirt reads "FairConn." Number 34 (Ryan) is on one sleeve and No. 10 (Tyler) is on the other. The words, "Olander, Either Way We win," are on the back.

The Olander brothers are key contributors for their respective teams. Tyler, a 6-foot-9 forward, is averaging 7.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. Ryan, a 7-foot center, averages 11.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.

"It's going to be really weird at first when we both step out on the court at the same time," Tyler said. "I've just got to get focused right away on what we have to do as a team."

At least their parents won't have to worry about any fights breaking out.

The sibling rivalry boiled over at times. One-on-one games in the driveway often took an ugly turn and rarely reached a conclusion. They traded verbal and physical shots.

"The games really didn't last long because we're both really competitive," Tyler said. "I love to win and he couldn't let his little brother win. If he got up, I would start to fight. And if I started winning, he would start to fight.

"That's how the game would end. My Dad would run out of the house to break up a fist fight in the driveway."

So the rambunctious brothers wouldn't destroy the house, mom, Tracy insisted they'd play in the basement.

The parents would only intervene if someone started screaming or crying.

"We have holes in our basement walls," Tracy said. "Nobody went down there except the kids. It didn't matter to us. They'd come up the stairs and it would smell like a locker room down there. It's part of brotherhood.

"No blood, no harm, right?"

But they did far more good than harm during those brotherly battles. They spent countless hours together and formed a tight bond forged by blood, sweat and tears.

Today, they're extremely close.

"They both have a deep love for each and respect for each other," Skip said. "Tyler loves his older brother, he did everything Ryan did."

They also helped push each other to improve. Tyler wanted to mimic his older brother so the left-hander worked on his right hand.

Their playing styles developed out of those childhood pick-up games.

"On the court, we really have different type of games," Tyler said. "He's more of a back-to-the-basket type player in the post. I'm more of a face-up player, which is really credited to him because when I was little I couldn't post him up because he was always taller."

Bragging rights are at stake Thursday. UConn is expected to win, but Fairfield is dangerous.

But little brother has something that Ryan doesn't.

"It would be real nice (to win)," Ryan told the Waterbury Republican. "He's got the national championship ring, the Big East championship ring and all that stuff. Hopefully I can have one thing to hold over his head."

No matter the outcome, the Olander family will be happy.

"It's a real special time for my parents and grandparents to see both of us out there at the same time," Tyler said. "It's something that I'll never forget."

g.keefe@theday.com

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