Jeff and Rashidah Nelson thought they raised a running back and a cheerleader.
They ended up with two point guards.
The 15-year-old sophomore twins Sa'eed and Yasmeen Nelson, of Pleasantville, have emerged as two of South Jersey's best young players this season.
Sa'eed plays for perennial power St. Augustine Prep. The Hermits are 5-0. Sa'eed averages 12 points and has sunk 22-of-23 foul shots.
Meanwhile, Yasmeen plays for one of the Cape-Atlantic League's newest programs - Atlantic County Institute of Technology in Mays Landing. The Red Hawks are 1-4, but Yasmeen averages 19.6 points.
"About seven years ago, you couldn't tell me that both of them would be playing basketball," Jeff said.
That's because growing up, the Nelsons were a football family. Jeff coached for the Atlantic City Dolphins of the Atlantic County Junior Football League. Sa'eed played running back, and Yasmeen cheered on the sidelines.
The twins mostly played basketball on a basket in front of their home. Sa'eed played in the Pleasantville Police Athletic League recreation league but was focused on football.
Former Atlantic City policeman and basketball standout the late Kevin Wilkins spotted Sa'eed playing one day. Wilkins and Jeff were good friends. Wilkins suggested to Jeff that Sa'eed get serious about basketball.
"He saw (Sa'eed) doing a couple of moves," Jeff said. "Kevin was like, 'Man, he should play basketball. I've just seen him do a couple of things that you can't teach.' We went from there."
Sa'eed - then a fifth grader - quickly got involved with AAU basketball and progressed quickly. Sa'eed played for several North Jersey AAU teams. Yasmeen followed her brother into the sport.
"Yasmeen asked Sa'eed to show her some things," Jeff said. "It was a like Cheryl and Reggie Miller thing."
Sa'eed has always been undersized. He's 5-foot-8 now and until recently the 5-7 Yasmeen was always taller. That caused some consternation among the twins.
But despite his stature Sa'eed has an innate ability to drive the lane and flick his shot up and over taller players. Yasmeen is the same way.
"We attack the basket," Sa'eed said. "She loves to attack the basket. I love to see her play, drive to the basket, dish the ball, do all the point guard stuff."
The twins were born on Sept. 9, 1998. The have an older sister - 20-year-old Amirah. Sa'eed is older than Yasmeen by 33 minutes.
Sa'eed and Yasmeen are close. Jeff says Sa'eed is more laid back, relaxing after practice by playing video games. Yasmeen is more outgoing, the father said.
"I feel like we're the same person," Yasmeen said. "A lot of people say that. They say they can't go anywhere without seeing the both of us."
Sometimes they can communicate with hardly saying anything.
"One time, we were at the table and she was thinking about a song, and I just started singing it," Sa'eed said. "She was like, 'Oh, that's the song I was thinking about.' "
The twins try to see each other play as much as possible. They watch video of each other's games and critique each other. The twins hate turnovers and don't hold anything back.
"We have a close bond," Yasmeen said, "and we always tell each other the truth."
When they watch each other player in person, it's almost like the twins are both on the court.
The family needs to sit down each weekend and plan the upcoming week and plan how they're going to get to the twins games. Jeff and Rashidah sometimes have to split up if the twins are playing on the same night.
On Tuesday, Jeff watched Sa'eed and the Hermits beat Oakcrest 53-35. Rashidah was in Mays Landing at ACIT's gym to watch Yasmeen score 27 points and have five assists and three steals in a 49-33 win over Pennsauken Tech.
There were plenty of phone texts sent between the gyms.
"When they signed up for basketball, we signed up," Jeff said. "It's a commitment. It's fun."
These are hectic days for the Nelson family, but, with the way the twins are playing, they are also memorable ones.
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