With a limited time to put things together, it's hard to tell how an all-star team might mesh.
Having personalities that click are a big deal. So, when someone reads what Johnstown guard Mark Watson had to say about what it's like to be around Westmont Hilltop's Quentin Brandon at practice at the Summit Tennis and Athletic Club on Tuesday night, it looked like it could be a red flag for the Central PA boys team.
"His demeanor is very strange,'' Watson said. "Just goofy all the time.''
Not to worry, though. Watson's comments were born out of endearment. It was good-natured ribbing, and Brandon even got a chuckle when hearing what Watson said.
"Mark's funny,'' Brandon said through his laughter. "You've got to love the kid.''
After all, despite being from rival schools, Brandon and Watson are the best of friends.
While the Central PA teams in the Mirror Classic in bringing players together from about 70 schools in nearly a dozen counties rarely enjoy the familiarity the players on the Blair County teams have, Friday night's seventh annual contest at Mount Aloysius College will be a reunion for a third of the regional boys squad.
The boys game, which tips off at approximately 8 p.m., will mark the first time Brandon, Watson and Watson's Johnstown High teammates Dwight Andrews and Alkwan Williams have teamed up in an organized basketball game since early in their junior seasons.
The girls game starts things off at 6:30.
"It's going to be fun. We've talked about it all week. It's going to be fun playing together again,'' Brandon said. "We're excited.''
One could see it even before their first practice, as the four friends challenged each other for the best dunk and threw lob passes to each other. Once practice began, it was very apparent they had played together before by how quickly they came together.
"It's going to be good,'' Andrews said. "It's always nice to play with someone you played so many years with. It's just going to feel good to basically have your teammate back.''
As juniors, Brandon, Andrews, Watson and Williams all were teammates, part of a terrific junior class at Johnstown seeking a third and fourth straight District 6 Class AAA championship before going off to college. Andrews, Brandon and Watson had been together since sixth grade. Williams, an all-state football player headed to Temple on a scholarship, joined them a year later.
"Since then, we've been like brothers. We were always together. Everything we did was together,'' Brandon said.
However, Brandon's home life disintegrated before his senior year. Brandon's father, who had been raising him as a single parent for most of his life, left. The youngster's life was in limbo.
"It's tough. There were a lot of personal problems,'' Brandon said, struggling at first to talk about it. "My AAU coach [Westmont assistant coach Tom Glennon] is like a father figure to me. He took me in. He did a good deed. I didn't have anywhere else to go. I was basically homeless.''
Ironically, Watson had gone through a similar ordeal a few months earlier. He and Brandon were forming a stellar backcourt with the Trojans when after a domestic issue, Watson came to live in Altoona; just a couple of weeks after helping Johnstown beat Altoona, he was playing for the Mountain Lions.
"It was a hard thing to go through,'' Watson said. "It's going to be good to play with him again.''
Brandon didn't even know Watson was coming back to Johnstown when he moved to Westmont. He said that, although he and Watson haven't been teammates in 14 months, they are closer than ever because of what they went through.
"When he was going through his problems, I was giving him a lot of advice on how to handle his situation. Then, when I was going through my problems, he was helping me out,'' Brandon said. "He was someone to lean on.''
While separated, the quartet all found success on the hardwood this season. Both Johnstown and Westmont reached the 20-win mark and made it to the interdistrict tournament. While Johnstown won another district championship, Brandon finished with one of the highest scoring averages in this part of the state at 22.8 points per game.
As opponents in Section 2 of the Laurel Highlands Conference, Westmont and Johnstown had to play against each other.
"It was emotional, going in there and shaking their hands before the game,'' Brandon said.
The Trojans won both meetings with Brandon's Hilltoppers, but Brandon gave them fits, averaging 28.0 points in those encounters.
"It was competitive,'' Andrews, who scored 30 points himself in one of the games against Westmont, said with a smile. "We didn't want to lose to him.''
Brandon led Johnstown in scoring as a junior. It's hard for the players not to wonder what might have happened had he been able to stay with the Trojans, who lost to Hampton by 14 in the second round of the state playoffs.
"He would have given us another scorer. We were comfortable with him. The chemistry together was so great,'' Andrews said. "It was tough. It really took us by surprise, but we understood his situation, so we just bonded together even more.''
It looks like the four will be going their separate ways after Friday night's game. Brandon said he is "about 90 percent sure'' he'll be taking a scholarship to play at Division II Pitt-Johnstown.
"It's going to be tough, splitting up in college,'' Brandon said.
Wherever they go, they wish each other the best.
"He's my brother. It will be fun to play with him again,'' Watson said.