A Brotherhood Built on the Hardwood

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The Ponce triplets aren’t hard to find. Just look around for the nearest basketball hoop. These days the best place to start is inside the gym at UC Santa Cruz’s West Field House. The gym became their second home, which is convenient because they sleep fewer than 100 yards away.

When they were kids they slept even closer to where they played ­— “The Ponce Palace.” This was the triplet’s very own basketball court, built by their dad in the backyard of their childhood home in Chino Hills.

“[Our parents] could never get us off it,” Tyler said. “We had music, lights and shooting competitions for a wrestling belt. We’d play all night, until the neighbors called to complain.”

Matthew, Tyler and Jared Ponce are now 21 games into their sophomore season with the Slugs. Even though the team struggled this year with a record of 4-17, the brothers love playing together. They anticipate the team improving with time, especially since they are a very young squad with only three upperclassmen.

So far this season, Jared is putting up the best numbers of the three brothers. In fact, he’s the team-leading scorer with 12.4 points per game. However, he doesn’t think his game is more advanced than either of his brothers.

“Our scoring shifted over the years,” Jared said. “I feel like we’re all at the same level of basketball right now. I’m just scoring a little bit more than them lately.”

He also said the brothers perform differently based on the type of basketball they’re playing.

“I can be better in game situations, but when it’s just the three of us playing against one another in the backyard or on the street, Tyler and Matthew can be better,” Jared said. “I’m not saying they’ll definitely beat me, but they might be a little better out there.”

The triplets have always been inseparable and shared the same group of friends. They slept in the same room until they were 16 when Matthew moved out into a different part of the house. In their apartment today, Matthew is still the one with his own room. He said it’s because he gets blamed for everything. Tyler agreed.

Their incredible closeness and knowledge of one another makes their dynamic as teammates very interesting.

“We’ve played so much together, sometimes I can close my eyes on the court and know exactly where they’ll be,” Matthew said. “These guys aren’t just my brothers, they are my best friends.”

The triplets also have such an extreme level of comfort with one another, they don’t hold back from telling each other anything. Coaches always tell the brothers they shouldn’t be as harsh to their teammates as they are to one another, Tyler said.

“I can say whatever I want to them and they won’t take it like, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s yelling at me,’” Jared said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we can yell at each other.”

The brothers know each other’s games better than anyone else could ever hope to. When asked if any of their opponents guard them closer than they guard one another, all three simultaneously responded, “No way.”

With all the time they’ve spent together on and off the court they know all of each other’s tricks. More importantly, they know how to get in each other’s heads.

Matthew said he occasionally had to bite his tongue when watching people coach his brothers, especially Tyler, since Tyler takes losses the hardest and beats himself up the most over mistakes.

Jared is known as the quiet brother, but one instance where he and his brothers have trouble keeping quiet is when they see another brother get pushed or hit by a hard foul. When that happens, it’s hard for them to not see red.

“They are my blood. My teammates are obviously family, but my brothers are my blood,” Matthew said, referring to an incident earlier in the year when Jared got involved in a scuffle.

Matthew immediately ran up to help his brother, while Tyler tried to rush in but was restrained on the bench by their coach.

“I’ve got five fouls to give and I’m not going home with them,” Tyler said.

The brothers will never lose the passion and closeness that drives them to protect one another. They are not just protective of one another, but of all their teammates when they’re out on the floor, Matthew said.

The brothers have played with this level of intensity and camaraderie ever since they put on their first pair of high tops. They’re still the same competitive boys who, while growing up, had to be dragged off the court for dinner after one of their many competitions.

“The worst was when somebody was angry after a one-on-one game or a shooting competition, because somebody would just be sitting there bright red at the dinner table,” Tyler said.

All of the brothers agreed they don’t get as angry these days. They still get emotional after losing, or after making a bad mistake. However, now they’ve learned to move on and learn from those failures.

“We’ll yell sometimes during practice or in the locker room, but a lot of the time you’ll see us chilled out later at the dining hall,” Jared said.

The triplets, along with the rest of the men’s basketball team will play out their remaining four games of the season on the road. After the season is over you’ll probably find the brothers at the gym shooting around and joking with one another.

“Ponce Palace” might be 379 miles away, but as long as these three brothers have basketball and one another, any court can feel like home.