It was early in the second quarter of last Wednesday night’s game at Gaston Lewis Gym and the visiting Simmons College defender was staying close to the familiar-faced Wilberforce player she had been guarding.
…Or, thought she had been guarding.
A few seconds later Wilberforce’s Alexandra Shealey rebounded a teammate’s missed shot and put the ball back up for an easy two points.
The Simmons player, still close to whom she thought was Alexandra, took a second look and realized she had just been “twinned.”
She actually was guarding Alexis – the “mirror image” twin of Alexandra, or Zandra as she’s called – who had just come into the game for the first time.
The Shealeys are 21-year-old senior guards from Middletown who have been making people do double takes all their lives and especially now at Wilberforce.
“We’re not your regular basketball players,” Alexandra had said after practice the day before the Bulldogs’ 94-49 victory over Simmons.
And she wasn’t just talking about the pair’s look-alike appearances.
The sisters are both electrical engineering majors and Wilberforce coach and athletics director Derek Williams said, “They are very good students. Both have close to a 3.5 GPA.”
And Alexis and Alexandra both have jobs, even during the season.
Alexandra works at the IHOP in West Chester. “Over the (Christmas) break, I worked about every day,” she said. “I’ll go in Saturdays and Sundays when I can and I’ll go work third shift. I can be a manager, a cook, do the dish tank. I’ll do anything to get a check.”
Alexis, once a manager at Cassano’s, now braids hair and, in her sister’s words is “really good at it.” She does it for students and people off campus.
“We both have our own cars in our names,” Alexis said. “We paid for them, pay the insurance and try to take care of all our bills.”
They look out for her family, as well. Alexandra said she takes care of her 17-year-old brother’s phone bill and at Christmas she bought him “an 11Pro Max (iPhone) with the three cameras. I got my mom an iPhone 8 Plus and my youngest brother an iPhone 7.”
Lori Shealey, spoke for everybody when she described her daughters as “pretty impressive.”
Over the years, several sets of twins have made a name for themselves in the basketball world, including Dick and Tom Van Arsdale, Horace and Harvey Grant, the Lopez brothers, Brook and Robin, and Marcus and Markief Morris.
In the late 1960s the Dayton Flyers had Jim and Jerry Gottschall. Stanford once featured the towering Collins twins, Jason and Jarron and hoops twins on the women’s side have included Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth and now the popular Dylan and Dakota Gonzalez.
“We don’t look at each other as twins,” Alexandra said.
As their friend Ashley Robinson, a Head Start teacher from Middletown who came to Wednesday’s game with her 4-year-old son Khyair to support the Shealeys noted: “Their personalities are very different.”
And the sisters agree.
“I’m very calm, but I can be like a bottle rocket,” Alexis said with a laugh. “All of a sudden I might explode, but after that I’m cool and the whole bottle is completely empty.”
“I’m like a firecracker,” Alexandra countered. “I’m very aggressive and sometimes I get conniptions. And with the firecracker part, you know it’s going to go off. But afterwards I tell the other girls: ‘Sorry…I’m sorry.’”
Yet, for all their supposed differences, they are a lot alike, too, their mom said.
And when you talk to them, you hear them finish each other’s stories, often not realizing they are doing so.
The other day Alexis said her career has been plagued with injuries and soon Alexandra was providing chapter and verse of every incident, be it a broken bone in her foot, broken finger or broken nose, which she explained happened when Alexis “dove for the ball on the floor” and another teammate “dove straight into her face.”
The sisters also show pride in each other’s accomplishments.
Alexandra brought up how “smart” her sister is, while Alexis talked about her sister’s mastery of Spanish.
When they were little girls, they said their mom often dressed them alike. Sometimes, though, while it was the same outfit, they were in different colors.
“Her color is pink and mine is blue,” Alexandra said.
That carries over to today, the sisters said, as they revealed matching tattoos on their opposite shoulders. Alexandra said Alexis thought up the idea:
“She has two roses and a key on her right arm because she’s right handed. The roses symbolize twins and if you look close, her key is colored light pink. I’ve got the two roes on my left arm because I’m left handed. And instead of the key, I have the lock and soon I’m gonna color it blue.”
‘Double the blessings’
Lori said she panicked when she first learned she was pregnant with twins.
“I cried for 45 minutes straight, I literally bawled my eyes out. My brain had gone into overload and all I could think of was that this would mean two walkers, two strollers, two car seats, two proms, two weddings.
“My mom said, ‘C’mon let’s get you some Chick-fil-A, you like that.’ And as we were walking into the mall, it finally dawned on me how lucky I was. I was getting a gift from God.
“With two babies I would have double the blessings. Suddenly it felt like my body was a temple. It was truly amazing to me.”
She said the babies were born two minutes apart – 6 pound, 5 ounce Alexandra first, followed by 6 pound, 9 ounce Alexis.
“They are what is called mirror image twins, so if you looked in the mirror it’s like they are looking at each other,” Lori said. “And they did everything within three days of each other, whether it was crawling, walking or talking.”
Alexis and Alexandra said their parents spilt up when they were small and they were raised by their mother, who is now a Registered Nurse at the Lodge Nursing & Rehab Center in Loveland.
“She was a great mom,” Alexandra said.
The sisters agree that while their mom provided them with everything they needed growing up – and most of all instilled the life lessons that have continued to sustain them – there were some tough times along the way.
Lori raised the kids with almost no financial support, which meant the girls didn’t always have the fanciest new clothes or latest gadgets.
They said they often were bullied when they were in grade school and middle school. Whether it was because they were biracial, or because of their size, their looks or their clothes, they were picked on.
“We were verbally bullied and I was physically bullied,” Alexandra said. “One day somebody came up and I guess because the thought we were poor, they put a permanent X with a black Sharpie on my skirt and said, ‘We want to see if you’ll come to school tomorrow with that same skirt on.’
“And because back then we were bigger than some of the kids, they took our name – Shealey – and called us ‘She-He.’”
It didn’t help, Alexis said, that she was dyslexic, as well.
“When they were kids, they were bullied over any little thing – their looks, their teeth or because they wore high water pants because they were so tall,” said Ashley, who played basketball with them at Middletown High School. “Zandra kind of shrugged it off then, but Alexis would hold it in and the go home and cry.”
But that all changed when the girls began to excel in sports.
“In high school they were varsity everything from the time they were freshmen,” said Ashley. “And they had good heads on their shoulders and actually care about school. They were smart – both of them were in the National Honor Society — and they became popular.
“Now everybody in Middletown loves them.”
After high school the twins – Alexandra is 5-foot-7, Alexis is 5-6 – planned to go to Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and play basketball, but they said at the last minute the coach there changed the offer she’d made to them.
They then followed Derek Williams, a Cincinnati State assistant, when he took over the Cincinnati Christian University program.
Alexandra stayed a year, but Alexis left after a semester to pursue a differed course of study and play basketball at Miami University Middletown.
When Williams came to Wilberforce, Alexandra followed and last season Alexis did, too.
Although the Bulldogs had unparalleled success last year – making the NAIA Division II national tournament for the first time and finishing 14-13 – there have been struggles with the program this season.
The school has long dealt with financial difficulties and three years ago tried unsuccessfully to sell the Alumni Complex, which includes the Gaston Lewis Gym. This year the school closed down for a couple of weeks in December to save expenses and Williams was forced to cancel three games. He also had to shut down the JV basketball program after three games.
Playing in the Association of Independent Institutions, Wilberforce is paired with schools from across the nation.
To make sure each school in the conference gets enough games, centralized round robin events are scheduled where four teams come in and are assured of at least two games.
After the New Year, the Bulldogs made a 10-hour bus trip to Kansas to play College of the Ozarks and Haskell Indian Nations University. They lost both games and were 8-9 going into Saturday’s game at St Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terra Haute, Ind.
While Bulldogs players don’t get the amount of equipment, the training table meals and the pampering that Division I athletes at UD, Ohio State and other schools get, that doesn’t matter to Alexandra:
“I try to avoid comparing my school to Division I situations. I have to go with the hand I was dealt They might have a better hand in some ways, but we get a lot of good things by going to Wilberforce.”
The twins both have National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scholarships and are members of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
They admitted it was a “culture shock” when they first came to the longstanding HBCU, but said they have made some good friends and learned some valuable lessons at Wilberforce.
“Not to be stereotypical, but I think the back stories of a lot of the students here – what they’ve overcome and how they want to better their life – are often better than you get at a PWI (Predominantly White Institution),” Alexandra said.
‘They don’t look alike to me’
Alexis has missed considerable playing time this season with an assortment of injuries, especially an injured foot.
Wednesday was her first game back in a while and Ashley and her son made the 40-minute drive from Middletown to support her and her sister.
Throughout the game 4-year-old Khyair kept calling out to the twins.
“I was 16 when I got pregnant and 17 when I had him,” Ashley said. “I had to give up my senior season of basketball, but Alexis and Zandra were there for me. We’ve been friends since fourth grade.”
While she can tell them apart – “They don’t look alike to me,” – she said a lot of other people have trouble, so the just call them “Twin….Hey, Twin!”
And when Alexis and Alexandra brought out two photos of themselves when they were very young – one in highchairs, one as little girls in matching red dresses – even they weren’t quite sure who was who.
Holding the red dress picture, Alexandra laughed: “Mom said Alexis is on the left and I’m on the right because I had a devious face.”
Pointing to the child in the highchair on the left, Alexis nodded: “And this one looks more like me, but I‘m not sure.”
One thing everyone is sure of is the bond between the two sisters. That was touchingly evident in a game against West Virginia Tech in mid-November.
Both sisters were playing well. Alexandra would make 7 of 11 shots and finish with a game-high 18 points. Alexis – who had rolled her right ankle and chipped a bone in the preseason – had made both of her field goal attempts and a pair of free throws.
Then she rolled her left ankle.
“With one bad ankle already, she fell,” Alexandra said. “I was on the bench and I yelled, ‘All right, I gotchu!’ I ran out there and picked her up and carried her to the training room.”
Alexis smiled and added quietly: “And you heard everybody go ‘ooooh.’”
At that moment, everyone in the gym had been “twinned.”
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