Basketball brings brothers together on, and off the court
For veteran basketball player Ethan Riniker, this season is about more than winning games and earning titles, and it even trumps his desire to find his own success on the hardwood courts of Northwest Colorado.
Those things are important, but for the Steamboat Springs boys basketball team’s leading scorer and team captain this season, it’s just as important to enjoy every minute of the game and share the experience with his younger brother one final time.
“It’s fun playing with him,” Ethan Riniker said about sharing the court with his younger brother, Mac. “I didn’t realize how special it was playing with him until this year. Last year, I just kept thinking, ‘Well we still have next year.’ But once this season began, it sank in that this will be our last chance in high school to play together.”
So, the Steamboat Springs senior plans to make the most of it and said he will do his best to create memories that will last far beyond his playing days. And if the two can win a few games — or even land a Western Slope Conference title — that would be even better.
“I feel like I know what he is going to do,” Ethan Riniker said. “I see him making the same mistakes I made when I was a sophomore and when I was a junior. That’s frustrating to me, because I know it, and it is so simple to fix them — still, he’s miles ahead of where I was when I was his age.”
Together, the two brothers have been a force for the 4-and-2 Sailors this season. Ethan Riniker leads the team in scoring, averaging just under 19 points per game. He has also grabbed 40 rebounds, blocked 12 shots and snagged 22 steals. His younger brother, Mac, is averaging 9.6 points per game, with 23 rebounds and 15 steals.
“It’s really fun, as a coach, watching them push each other and trying to make themselves better,” coach Michael Vandahl said. “They’re both extremely dedicated in the off season. They both call me non-stop in the summer wanting to get in the gym. They have taken ownership of the strength training program. They both want to be good, and their hard work proves it.”
Vandahl acknowledged there may be a little sibling rivalry at work.
“Sometimes, it’s easier being the younger brother, but sometimes, it’s a lot harder,” Mac Reniker, a starter for the team since his freshman year, said about playing with the Sailors. “I think most people expect a lot more out of him (Ethan Riniker) every game, but I have pretty high expectations, myself. I think playing with him is going to mean a lot to us down the road. We hold each other accountable, and that’s a good thing.”
Mac Riniker said he would like nothing better than to catch his brother in scoring this year, but he acknowledges it’s not likely. Instead, he hopes to average in the double digits and find a way to increase the number of steals he gets each game. He said his brother has been an inspiration to him, but he will never admit that when the two are playing one-on-one.
“He beats me, occasionally,” Ethan Riniker said. ‘We’ve always been pretty competitive. We push each other, and that makes us better. He is so talented and gifted on defense.”
So far this season, the Rinikers have fueled the Sailors offense and are the foundation of the team’s defense. But the brothers insist the Sailors’ success on the court is a team effort, and their coach agrees
“I don’t know if the team really sees them as brothers,” Vandahl said. “They are just part of the team. We have a great team atmosphere, where the older guys are great to Mac and the younger guys, and that’s what we want. Mac came in and was a varsity player right away, because of his motor. Mac made Ethan better right away, because you don’t want to let your little brother beat you.”
Ethan Riniker agreed, but added that some of his improvement is the result of getting older and understanding what it takes to be successful on the court.
“This year, I understand what it means to be a leader, and I want to set an example for these young guys,” Ethan Riniker said.
Fortunately, for his teammates and his coach, Ethan Riniker has been setting an example for years at home, and it seems as though his brother has been watching and learning.
“We have some young talent coming up,” Vandahl said. “I’m looking forward to seeing them step up and make this team even better.”
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