Double dribble

Redshirt senior guard Shaqquan Aaron and redshirt freshman guard Shalexxus Aaron play one-on-one at the Galen Center practice courts. (Emily Smith/Daily Trojan)

It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of watching Shalexxus and Shaqquan Aaron interact to recognize that their relationship runs deep. Moments after each question, they begin to bicker in the way only siblings can, arguing over whose recollections of their childhood are more accurate amid a flurry of verbal jabs. Three and a half years separate the siblings, but that seems to be one of the only things that does.

It’s only fitting that they both ended up playing collegiate basketball at USC — Shalexxus, a redshirt freshman on the women’s team, and Shaqquan, a redshirt senior on the men’s — even if they took different paths to get there.

Raised on the game

Basketball has always tied the Aaron siblings together. Shaqquan recalled watching his brother Shaddean, the eldest Aaron sibling, practice every day with their dad.

“I would just try to imitate what he would do,” Shaqquan said. “Then when Shalexxus came along, she would imitate what I would do, and then eventually she started working out with me.”

Hooping was the family craft, passed down from mother and father to their three children — all of whom went on to play Division I basketball (Shaddean played at Mercer from 2004-08). Contrary to the Ball family-like image that the Aarons might conjure, their parents, Carl and Madinah Aaron, never forced their children into the sport. It was simply what they loved, and each child was eager to pick up the game from their talented family members.

“My parents were really never like, ‘You have to play basketball, that’s the sport we’re gonna put you in, and you’re gonna like it,’” Shalexxus said. “That wasn’t the case. I was just like, ‘I wanna play basketball,’ and my dad said, ‘I’ll teach you.’”

Their parents acted as their coaches growing up.

“People these days have trainers,” Shaqquan said. “Our trainer was our dad and our mom.”

For Shalexxus, it wasn’t just her parents that taught her how to play basketball at a young age.

“Everything I know I learned from my parents, but especially from Shaqquan,” she said.

From the moment she could dribble and shoot a ball, Shaqquan was playing one-on-one with her.

“It was very competitive,” Shaqquan said. “She used to cry all the time.”

Shalexxus shot back: “First of all, I didn’t cry.” (“Yes you did,” Shaqquan responded.)

“I did not cry,” Shalexxus emphasized. “I would complain to my parents because [Shaqquan] would block my shot.”

And though they told him to stop, Shaqquan never did, something his sister is now thankful for.

“I’m grateful for it, because I learned how to get over it and use certain moves to not get my shot blocked,” Shalexxus said. “It paid off. So yeah, it was competitive. We would both be in each other’s heads.”

Even now, watching each other play invokes flashbacks of the other’s game, a testament to the countless hours they’ve spent on the court together over the years.

“A lot of his teammates come up to me and say it’s scary how identical we are in our game,” Shalexxus said. “We shoot the same, our handles are the same. He taught me stuff, and I teach him too. Just watching him play, I would look at his movement, or the way he moves his feet, or his follow through on his shot.”

Becoming Trojans

Intertwined as they’ve always been, Shaqquan and Shalexxus came to USC following very different paths.

Shaqquan dominated the high school scene in Seattle, where the family moved during his junior year, averaging 19.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in his senior year en route to a state title and Washington Player of the Year. A highly ranked recruit, Shaqquan committed to Louisville, where he spent his freshman year of college before transferring to USC. Now in his final year as a redshirt senior, he’s averaging career-highs in points, assists and rebounds per game.

Shalexxus was also a high school standout, averaging 18.1 points per game her senior season on her way to being named Athlete of the Year by the Riverside Press Enterprise. Shalexxus committed to USC, a choice she made for herself. She said Shaqquan’s position on the men’s team did not factor into her decision.

“Not in a negative way,” she said. “I was being recruited by ’SC before Shaqquan went to ’SC. I came here because I wanted to play for [former women’s basketball head coach] Cynthia Cooper. I had a great relationship with the coaching staff, loved the school, the education is phenomenal here. Shaqquan was just a super dope bonus. But I came here because I wanted to come here.”

That decision seems to be paying dividends for her team. After missing her freshman season due to a knee injury, she’s been finding her groove as an electric 3-point shooter, averaging 52 percent from behind the arc.

Beyond basketball

Integral as the sport has been to their connection, the bond between the two has never ended at the boundaries of the basketball court. Junior forward Nick Rakocevic, a teammate of Shaqquan’s, described the siblings’ dynamic off the court.

“I always see them together dancing and doing fun stuff, and that’s always a good sight,” Rakocevic said. “Apart from basketball, they got things to relate to. Their relationship is really special from what I see.”

Shaqquan confirmed this.

“Now that she’s older, she branches off and hangs out with her friends, but when she was younger she always wanted to hang out with me and my friends, so I had to bring her along. Hated it,” he said, with a small eye roll and a grin. “Now that we’re older, we appreciate each other, we hang out with each other a lot.”

A quick glance at both of their Twitter feeds reflects their shared interests. Both are littered with — among other things — superhero movies, for which they both eagerly profess shared love.

“We go see every Marvel and DC movie together,” Shaqquan said.       

Comic book culture was a huge part of their household, a love passed down by their father that has stuck with them to this day. Shaqquan doesn’t hesitate to talk about his collections of comics and his love for Marvel productions.

“I’m in the golden age of TV, so I’m lucky I get to see what I collected and looked at all my childhood now put on screen,” Shaqquan said.

Shalexxus agreed before her brother quickly interjected.

“It was more whatever I watched, she watched, so she tagged along and now she loves that stuff,” Shaqquan said. “Most of the stuff you watch, you watch because of me.”

Shalexxus shot back: “No, you take credit for everything!”

Shaqquan and Shalexxus have been connected by basketball for as long as they can remember. The hours on end spent practicing or arguing with each other have brought them together in a unique way. As big as basketball is in the Aaron siblings’ lives, their bond comes before all else.

“A lot of people tell us the relationship we have isn’t what most people see,” Shalexxus said. “We’re just really close and don’t let anything get between that, whether it’s basketball, or life, or anything.”

Taj Mayfield contributed to this report.