Divine sisterhood at No. 1 Mater Dei
Are you twins?
The answers is no -- Andee is 17 and Bianca is 16 -- even though both are juniors at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), the No. 1 team in the espnW Power 25.
"Sometimes, just to bypass all the explanations, we say, 'Yes, we're twins,' " said Andee, the starting point guard for the Monarchs and the No. 58 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2015 class.
"And people always [respond by saying], 'Yes, I knew it!' "
Andee, who averaged 12 points and seven assists last season, and Bianca, a backup guard with an emerging offensive game, don't just look alike -- they are practically inseparable.
Both have committed to Loyola Marymount University, and both plan to study law and go into business together once they graduate. Andee has a 4.5 GPA, and Bianca's is 4.1.
But the girls weren't always in the same class. After the eighth grade, their parents, Xavier and Lisa, decided to have Andee home-schooled, repeating the eighth grade.
"At first, I didn't know what to think -- I was kind of shocked and wasn't sure," Andee said. "But after thinking and measuring all the pros and cons, I knew it was the best decision for me."
The reason for the decision was twofold. For one, it allowed Andee time to heal from a wide variety of growth-spurt-related injuries. For another, it put her in the same grade as Bianca.
Andee is now 5-8½ -- a half-inch taller than Bianca. But when the girls were 9 and 8, respectively, Bianca was four inches taller than her older sister.
"Many kids' growth plates are sometimes delayed, and it can create a lot of joint pain -- I've seen it," said Xavier Velasco, who, like his wife, is a chiropractor.
"Andee was a classic case. Her growth was delayed, and it caused her pain in her knees, ankles, wrists, elbows -- she was miserable. She could barely walk."
During the year she was home-schooled, Andee rested and did her rehab.
Coincidentally, that was the last time Mater Dei finished a season ranked No. 1 nationally, but the Velascos say that, given Andee's physical state, there was no way she would have been ready to play varsity ball in 2010-11, when she would have been a freshman.
Xavier and Lisa say both of their mothers were concerned about the effects socially if Andee were held back a year. But once they understood all the factors, Xavier said, they were on board.
"We talked to a lot of people in the medical world, the educational world and the basketball world before we made this choice," Xavier said. "We talked to the principal at their middle school. We talked to our pastor. We thought this would give Andee another level of maturity to make better decisions socially."
In addition, Lisa said spending the year home-schooling Andee strengthened their bond, and Bianca noticed a change in her relationship with her sister as well.
"Before we were in the same grade, Andee was like my mom or my coach -- she bossed me around.
"But when Andee was held back, it was like, now she's my sister and my best friend. We became much closer."
Both girls said going to the same college was not something they even had to discuss -- it was just a given.
The family said there were about nine universities that offered scholarships to both girls, including Southern Cal, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Washington State and Oregon State.
Loyola Marymount was the choice because, in part, it's a Catholic school, and it's close to home, about 35 miles away.
"I wouldn't want to go to college without Andee," Bianca said. "Two or three times, it's happened that she's sick, and I've gone to school without her. I've hated those days. Usually, if one of us is sick, the other one stays home, too."
Bianca said teachers usually have them sit on opposite ends of the classroom so they don't talk and laugh and disrupt things.
"But it doesn't matter where the teacher puts us," Bianca said. "I will still find a way to give Andee these little looks. We have a lot of inside jokes."
It probably goes without saying, but Andee and Bianca listen to the same music, eat the same food and sleep in the same room.
All that togetherness, they say, helps them in basketball.
"We have this twin telepathy-type of thing," Andee said. "We know where each other is on the court at all times."
Coach Kevin Kiernan, in his seventh season at Mater Dei, has a young team -- only one senior starts -- that is long and skilled, if not very physical.
The Velasco girls, Kiernan said, will be relied upon heavily this season. Andee's job is to distribute the ball. And Bianca, who did not play much last season and averaged just four points, came off the bench in Mater Dei's season-opening win over Long Beach Wilson on Monday, pumping in 17 points.
Andee is the higher-end prospect at this point, but both are skilled.
"Bianca is very social, really popular and talented," Kiernan said. "She works hard, and she's a really good shooter.
"Andee is very driven and serious. She's probably as focused as any kid we have. Andee is self-motivated, very ambitious. They're just different kids."
Different in some ways and similar in so many others.
And with college just a couple of years away, they see that as a definite positive.
"I've talked to friends who have gone on to college, and they say it can be scary and overwhelming," Bianca said. "Having Andee there will help me immensely. I won't have to worry about making friends. I will have my sister and my teammates, and that's all that really matters."