SPORTS

The Horford Brothers Are Tight and So Is Their Basketball

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 04:  Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks drives to the basket against Joel Anthony #50 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on December 4, 2010 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 04: Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks drives to the basket against Joel Anthony #50 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on December 4, 2010 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)  (2010 Getty Images)

A little more than 500 miles will separate Atlanta Hawks' forward Al Horford and his younger brother, Jon, on Saturday night. 

Al will suit up in Houston to take on the Rockets while Jon, a freshman for the Michigan Wolverines, will take the floor against the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington.

No amount of distance, however, can come between the brothers – whose father, Tito, was the first Dominican to play in the National Basketball Association. Al and Jon chat daily, before or after games.

“We literally talk two to three times a day," Al Horford, 24, told Fox News Latino. "He just stays calling me, asking me questions about everything, about school and questions about basketball and things like that.

“I’ve been helping him out as much as I can with all of that," he added. "Since I went through that experience, I can help him out a lot with that.”

Their closeness, though, belies an upbringing that, because they have different mothers, occasionally kept them hundreds of miles apart.

Their hectic schedules hasn't helped close that geographical gap, either. But they usually make the effort to head north or south, east or west, just to do what brothers do – go out, eat and sometimes not “do much at all,” as Jon put it, except “just going through [Al's] game.”

And Al, who spent three seasons at the University of Florida and won back-to-back national titles with the Gators in 2006-2007, shares his wisdom with his little brother. More than anyone, he can relate to what his brother is going through. 

From afar he sees that the college game has been challenging for Jon, particularly because of the 1-3-1 defensive system run by Wolverines' coach John Beilein and the coach's emphasis on featuring the team's big men. 

That's where Al steps in and offers his two cents to try to ease the adjustment for Jon.

“If he needs to see video of myself playing or something like that to take some notes, then we do that, too," Al said. "That’s something I’ve tried doing since he started college."

The tutoring is apparently paying off. Even though Jon is averaging just nine minutes and three points per game, his maturity level has grown by leaps and bounds.

"He's helped me with my game and he's helped me out mentally, just handling things, knowing how to deal with things," Jon, 19, said. "It also helped out a lot growing up.

"I didn't go to a lot of his games but I was into the [N.C.A.A.] tournament and always caught at least three or four games a year," he added. "Just to have those experiences...helps me want to...get to where he was that much more."

And that maturity, Al believes, will complement Jon's physical tools to help Jon achieve the ultimate goal – to play in the N.B.A.

“He has to polish his game more. He has the height," Al said. "He has the ability, but you know that a lot of players have that, especially on the collegiate level.

“I think he needs to keep maturing as a player," he added, "but he has the chance to get here to the N.B.A.”

But for all the tutorials and advice, Jon still sees Al not as the N.B.A. All-Star who recently signed a contract extension. Instead, he just sees him as a big brother.

“I mean, he’s just my brother and he happens to play in the N.B.A as far as I’m concerned," Jon said. "It’s not like if I feel any different about anything. I still see him as my brother.”

With the FIBA Americas Championships scheduled for the summer in Argentina and international dates to follow, Jon said he'd like to join his brother and play with the Dominican Republic team.

But don't let their closeness fool you. When they share the court in pickup games, Al – the Big Brother – doesn't give Jon an inch.

And when Al was asked if his younger brother could beat him in a game of one-on-one, Al summed up the friendly rivalry to Felipe López – a friend of the brothers and a well-known Dominican player in his own right – with a single Spanish word. 

"Chivito," he joked, using the Dominican slang term for youngster.

A reluctant Jon all but agreed that he wasn't quite ready to take on his big brother.

“We’ve never played one-on-one," Jon said. "He’d beat me.” 

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