Without a second of hesitation, Hannah Lising was there for her sister.
Jerseys were grabbed and shoves exchanged from the first minutes of a rough, physical City Section Division I semifinal playoff game Feb. 17 between Sun Valley Poly and L.A. Hamilton. And with the fourth quarter winding down to an eventual Poly win, simmer turned to a boil as Parrots point guard Heart Lising and a Yankees player dove simultaneously for a loose ball. As both got up after a foul call, the Hamilton player flipped up Heart’s black ponytail.
So Heart flung the ball directly at her back. She was hit with a technical. And as a throng of Hamilton players gathered, twin sister Hannah — also a Parrots guard — walked over, placed herself directly in front of her sister, and raised her hands high.
It was a blatant act of protection, two twins linked at a deeper level than the jersey on their backs, than even the shared DNA buried in their cells.
“That protectiveness came out,” Poly coach Tremeka Batiste chuckled a week later. “And nobody was going to get to her sister.”
Some shoving broke out, and Hannah took an elbow directly to the face, stumbling away. She didn’t cry. They’d grown up playing on a concrete court in the Philippines, running around roughhousing with boys. Unfazed.
But as Hannah stood, a piece of gum flew from the crowd and hit her shoulder. Heart saw it, and it further upset her, making a show of pointing at the wad on the court and waving her hands at the crowd.
She received a second technical, and was thus ejected. It meant bad news for the Division I final the following week: Poly would be without one of the sisters, their two best players. And it meant something even worse for Hannah.
The twins came to America two years ago, adjusting to an unfamiliar country in the middle of COVID-19. But they always had each other. Always had a friend, a companion.
Now Hannah Lising, for the first time, was alone.
They learned the game on that unpainted concrete court in their village in the Philippines, going out every afternoon after school with their cousins.
The twins didn’t wear shoes when they played. Sometimes, their feet would get cut up.
“We just had to get used to it,” Hannah said, smiling.
Those were the days. Their mother gave birth to them in their childhood house, and the twins grew up going from house to house in the middle of a lower-class, five-block-wide province where they knew everyone and everyone was family.
They’d wake at 5 a.m., catching a ride from a motorized-tricycle cab — “tráysikél” in first-language Tagalog — to a Catholic K-12 school about 15 minutes from their house. There was a hospital two miles down the road. A McDonald’s nearby.
Two years ago, when they were 15, their father — a U.S. citizen — successfully petitioned for them to come live in the States with his side of the family, an exciting move for more opportunity.
Yet the longer they are here, the more Heart and Hannah find themselves missing their old village. They miss Christmas in their province, where each house sparkles with decorations. They miss their mom most of all, whom they still call after most every game to update.
Their dad’s family has been trying to get her to the United States for two years. Paperwork is still pending.
“They do have bad days, and think of her a lot,” said cousin Sofia Gregorio, a student and volleyball player at Poly. “It kind of takes a toll on how they go to their school, and there’s sometimes I have talks with them on how things will come together.”
Hannah Lising has 35 points and Alyssa Jaime makes a critical free throw in double overtime to lift the Parrots past LACES for City Division I title.
Hannah and Heart enrolled at Poly in the height of the pandemic, unfamiliar with online schooling or Zoom. They were often shy, both Gregorio and Batiste recalled them speaking English as a second language while trying to better understand grammar.
But they had their dad’s family and Gregorio, whom they quickly bonded with by playing “NBA 2K” on the Xbox. And most of all, they had each other.
“I can learn stuff, and then I can teach her,” Hannah said. “You already have like a best friend.”
“I grew up with her,” Heart added, “and everything is basically, ‘I’m with her.’ ”
Sometimes, they are each other’s worst enemy.
Hannah is more extroverted. Heart more introverted. They have different personalities, and are volatile in combination.
“They bicker,” Batiste said. “They’re like an old married couple where they snap at each other, and then they’ll slap each other on the back laughing a moment later.”
Such is life, though, when you’re attached at the hip. Basketball wasn’t their primary sport — simply a hobby because their real sport in the Philippines was badminton, where the two were partners good enough to play on the country’s junior national team.
Plain and simple, though, they were natural athletes. They could leap. They could burn. And they could shoot.
“They were a different breed,” said Poly boys’ basketball coach Alex Pladevega, who helped train the twins when they first arrived.
The first game they played their freshman year, Batiste remembered, she subbed one of them out — and the other would keep scanning the sideline every time she ran up and down the court. The coach didn’t remember which was which. This was a common problem.
“She wasn’t focused on the game,” Batiste recalled. “It was like, she kept looking for her twin.”
They both averaged more than 15 points a game last season to lead Poly to a 15-5 record, though, and have further developed their basketball IQ as juniors. Heart is now the team’s de facto point guard, and the combination propelled Poly through the City Division I playoffs.
“Sometimes, I don’t trust them,” Heart said of her teammates, “but you kind of have to.”
And then she got suspended.
In one game this season, Gregorio remembered, Heart was in foul trouble. After each whistle, Gregorio said, Hannah would raise her hand to the referee, trying to claim each subsequent foul was hers.
For years, the two were each other’s crutch. But now, Batiste said, there’s no more stares to the sidelines when one is in the game and one isn’t.
“If I get hurt, you don’t care,” Hannah said, in an interview with Heart in January. “You just play the game, and I’ll play my game.”
Hannah finished with 35 points Saturday before fouling out with 1:34 left, Poly holding on to win the City Division I title, playing her own game without her twin beside her. The Parrots will host San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret’s in a Southern California Regional Division IV first-round game Tuesday.
“That was something else,” Batiste said. “That’s maturity … if this happened last year, or the year before, it probably would’ve been a different story.”
Now, they hope to play in college and study to become doctors or dentists, or maybe one of each.
And the family is hoping the twins’ mom will be in the U.S. by the end of the year, Gregorio said. In the meantime, they’ll keep sending her videos after the games.
“Their whole family,” Batiste said, “is on this journey with them.”
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