Brothers of the Ball: Fil-Am Duncan siblings make history

These days, it’s not unusual to see players from the same family sharing time on the hardwood. They could be on opposite ends such as the case of brothers Stephen and Seth Curry of Golden State and Dallas, respectively, or the sisterly love being shown by Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike despite being on rival squads in the WNBA.

They could also be playing on the same team such as that of twins Caleb and Cody Martin, who have been inseparable since their HS days and are now with the Charlotte Hornets. Locally, there’s the Ravena brothers Keifer and Thirdy who balled together for a season at Ateneo; and the Tengs, Jeron and Jeric who are now both etching their mark in the pros.

In the recent 2019-20 US collegiate season, three brothers of Filipino lineage all suited up for one varsity and in the process, made history.

Indiana natives and Fil-Am siblings Ernie, Everett and Robin Duncan etched themselves into the annals of college basketball history by becoming the first set of three brothers to play in an NCAA tournament game as members of the University of Vermont’s men’s basketball squad.

This, after the Catamounts qualified to the Big Dance thru capturing the American East championship over Binghamton during the conference tournament.

Even though the team wasn’t able to advance past the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament, the experience proved to be not only historic one, but also a memorable run for the trio especially with Ernie playing out his last year of varsity eligibility.

Saving his best for last, the 6’3″ Ernie averaged 13.8 points, 2.0 assists and 1.7 boards while starting all of the 32 games that he played for the Catamounts, his best in all of his four seasons of college ball. He eventually finished as the school’s all-time leader in three-point percentage with a 41.9% clip and was named as member of the America East All-Conference First Team and National Association of Basketball Coaches All District-1 Second Team for the 2018-19 season.

On the other hand, Everett averaged 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds as a junior, with the 6’6″ wing registering a 36.7% shooting percentage from downtown, good for fourth in the team. He also registered his career-best in points as a college player this season when he dropped 20 markers versus Stony Brook.

While he may just be a freshman, Robin was a significant contributor to the team’s cause by emerging as the Catamount’s lead assist man to the tune of 2.5 dimes per game. The 6’5″ guard also finished third on the squad in total steals with 23 to go along with his 4.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per. In turn, the youngest Duncan’s efforts helped him to be part of the 2018-19 America East’s All-Rookie team.

Prior to their collegiate stint with Vermont, these kids of Stan Duncan, Sr. and his Filipina wife Melinda played prep ball at Harrison High School in Evansville, Indiana wherein they notched several achievements during their time as well.

Proving to be one of Evansville’s best products, Ernie set the school’s scoring record as he edged famed Harrison products Calbert Cheaney and Walter McCarty, who both played in the NBA. The older Duncan also became the Warrior’s all-time assists’ king during his tenure. Both milestones, however, would be eclipsed by the time Everett and Robin went on-board. The former, in terms of clinching Harrison’s new all-time scoring leader, and with the latter dropping 583 dimes at the end of his HS career to set the new school record.

In an interview with SLAM Philippines, Ernie, Everett and Robin share their thoughts about achieving this historical feat, while also having their takes on what it’s like being raised in one of the sport’s hotbed in the United States, Filipino basketball, and the thought of playing for the country’s colours in the near future.

SLAM PH: How does it feel to make history with this achievement? In this regard, how was the experience playing together as siblings? Was it smooth-sailing from the get-go, or did you have to endure some rough patches along the way?

Ernie Duncan: The achievement was a dream that I had pictured years ago that actually came true. To share the court with them for a NCAA tournament game was something out of a movie in my mind. I would have moments during that game that I took a second to realize that my two brothers were on the court battling with me on the biggest stage. I will never forget the experience and will treasure it the rest of my life! In regard to how the experience of playing with them went; It was pretty smooth for the most part. We would obviously have times that we would bicker at each other over something silly but the good far outweigh the bad when it comes to how the experience was.

Everett Duncan: It was an unreal experience. I appreciated it from the moment it started and I can’t believe it is over now. But thinking back on it, it was really special and to play college basketball together and then play in the NCAA tournament together was truly amazing. It was pretty smooth sailing for the most part. There were a few dumb arguments but that happens with brothers.

Robin Duncan: It was an experience that no one else has ever felt and when I think about it like that it makes it ten times better. At first it was weird playing in practice and in games with my brothers but as time went on I got used to it. The hardest part for me was being able to listen and take advice from them without arguing back at them as brothers.

SLAM PH: Can you share your basketball experience growing up? How was it like growing in an acknowledged hotbed of hoops which is Indiana?

Ernie: I don’t think we end up the players we turned out to be if it wasn’t for growing up in the basketball craze state of Indiana. Once my parents saw that we had some talent, they turned it into a religion for us essentially. Every day of lives revolved around basketball and school. Everything from our diet to how we dribbled the ball was broken down so we could do our absolute best on the court. It was a lot of fun to play hoops in Indiana because everyone was crazy about it. There was tons of pressure on us to perform starting at a young age. The pressure brought on a lot of excitement and ultimately made us a lot better. 

Everett: I think that playing and growing up in Indiana really made us all love the game. I can remember from an early age of going to local high school basketball games and we would just analyze the game. That is such a huge part of being a player and we did that. There were players we looked up to and we would practice and do what they did. But that is how high school hoops is like in Indiana and it is something that is really special and had a huge effect on us three.

Robin: I don’t think I would’ve been the player I am today if it wasn’t for my brothers high standards that I had to live up to. When they both received offers from the University of Vermont, it pushed me to become better so I could play at that level. Indiana is all about basketball. That is all we did growing up.

SLAM PH: As the eldest of the brood, Ernie, how much of an influence were you in having your brothers follow you here in Vermont?

Ernie: I think I had a huge influence in getting my brothers to Vermont. They did their part of making sure they were good enough and then the rest just kind of followed. I had to work more on Robin to make sure he was coming but I was confident that he wouldn’t be able to pass up the opportunity to play with Everett and I. I would run the image of us three on a court together to Robin to make sure he would come to Vermont.

SLAM PH: You established yourself as a scoring machine in Indiana HS basketball, Everett. Share with us your experience being someone who shone brightest among the best in a basketball-crazy state. Also, there were offers from major D1 programs but you chose to follow Ernie as a Catamount. What made you do it?

Ernie: I chose Vermont because it is such a special place in many, many ways. The main reason I chose it was because I felt that I had the best chance to go to the NCAA tournament. Now that I am months removed from Vermont, I look back and realize how perfect of a decision it was to go to UVM. On top of the winning culture that Vermont had, the family environment, the great city of Burlington, the tight knit community among many other things were a big reason that I wanted to go there.

Everett: Playing amongst the best of Indiana was a great experience, I got to play a lot of the guys in AAU, but playing them in High School with our respected high school teams made it even more special. I remember the battles that I had with other teams in the state, and it will go down as memories that I will cherish forever. Competing against other future college athletes made it enjoyable and then the fans interest is a part of it that makes it Indiana basketball. Going to play an hour away would bring fans in and they would watch because of who was playing. That always made it fun. My college recruitment wasn’t very active. I had one college offer at the University of Vermont. So when I was offered, I immediately accepted it and it was a great decision to come here. Being it makes me realize I am glad I ended up here with my brothers and would not want it any other way.

SLAM PH: As the youngest, what influenced you to attend Vermont as well, Robin?

Robin: Obviously having my brothers at Vermont was the biggest influence on me coming here but on my visit I found how great and close the community of Vermont is. I really enjoy playing in front of thousands every game and I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else!

SLAM PH: Also, with the trend in the Philippine basketball again allowing an influx of Fil-foreign players not only in the pros but also in the collegiate level, will you three entertain the thought of coming over to the country and playing?

Ernie: I think all three of us will definitely entertain the idea of playing over there. I know that it would mean so much to my mom and our family that is over there to see us play.

Everett: Of course, if the situation was right, I would for sure be interested in coming over and playing. That would be really cool.

Robin: I definitely love the idea of playing over there. Especially with a lot of family over there.

SLAM PH: Are you also aware of the Gilas Pilipinas-National team program? If so, are you willing to suit up for the team should any of you get an invite?

Ernie: Yes, we are very much aware of the national team. I think all three of us are talented enough to play on the team and would all three jump at the opportunity to represent the Philippines.

Everett: A dream would be to represent the national team. That is something that I would love to do and I would be honored. I think we all are good enough and would do it if we are able to get that opportunity.

Robin: I think that’s a huge goal of mine to represent the Philippines. That would be an amazing experience.

SLAM PH:   What are your future plans, especially with Ernie who’s already graduated?

Ernie: I am currently weighing my options but have my agents are working on getting me a professional deal overseas. So if I can find a good deal overseas, then I will be doing that!

Photos from Ernie Duncan and the University of Vermont Catamounts