ANGWIN — For the last three years, the strange became ordinary for Ben and Dan Jazuk.
The near-identical twins, who grew up in Vallejo, spent their entire lives playing basketball on the same teams. That changed in 2016 when the two went their separate ways in order to chase their respective hoop dreams.
Three years later, Ben’s senior season, they’re reunited and playing for Pacific Union College to write one final chapter in their combined story. This season will not only mark the last time these two will share a collegiate court together, but it will bring to a close a lifelong trek that has crisscrossed Napa and Solano counties – all in the name of basketball.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Ben, “but it’s been worth it.”
The journey for the twins – whose last name is pronounced “juh-ZOOK” – began in Vallejo a little over 25 years ago, with Dan arriving just two minutes before Ben. Looking at the two now, you’d think that’d be reversed. Ben stands a solid inch taller than his older brother and gets the lion’s share of playing time between the two. To make things weirder, Ben is a senior in terms of collegiate athletic eligibility while Dan is only a junior, even though the two are the same age and have both been bouncing from college to college for the last six years.
While PUC is the third stop for Dan and the second for Ben since the two graduated from Jesse Bethel High School in 2012, this is Ben’s fourth and final year officially playing while it’s only Dan’s third year.
Napa Valley College was the first stop for the Jazuks. Ben played there first in 2013 and Dan followed suit the following year after sitting out. The two essentially traded spots that second year, as Dan played and Ben sat. They then switched again in their third year at NVC, with Ben playing and Dan sitting. By their fourth year, they decided it was time for a change of scenery.
Dan ended up at Solano Community College and Ben began his time with the Pioneers in Angwin. Ben couldn’t have timed his arrival any better, as the Pioneers went on a magical run to end the season and earned a berth in the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament.
Ben played an integral role on that team, averaging nine points per game and knocking down 39 percent of his shots from the 3-point arc in 24 games off the bench.
One county over, Dan averaged six points per game and shot 37 percent from three for a Falcons team that went 10-17.
That first season, 2016-17, began that three year-stretch when they did not inhabit a sideline together. The two agreed, when asked about it recently, that not being on the same team went from strange to the new normal.
Dan even believed it benefited them both.
“One of us got to watch the other one play and see things from a different perspective,” he said. “We could see what we could do better or what we didn’t do as well in a game, or things of that like.”
Dan played at Solano for only that one season while Ben didn’t suit up for the Pioneers last season, so neither Jazuk was playing in an official capacity at all last year. Ben wanted to play for PUC again but had to work out the financial side of things first, while Dan was waiting to see what his younger brother would do.
The two had decided in their year off that they wanted to play alongside each other one last time. Given that Ben would be entering his final year of eligibility this season, it was either now or never.
“We didn’t want to go our entire collegiate careers without playing with each other at least one time,” Ben said. “That definitely was a factor.”
Added Dan, “That was definitely one of the main things that we talked about in terms of what we wanted to do with his senior year and then me still having one more year to play. So that was definitely a big factor.”
Eventually, Ben worked the logistics out and returned to the Pioneers with Dan in tow.
“We had an open conversation,” PUC head coach Greg Rahn said of Ben. “It wasn’t anything like he was going to take off and that was that, so I respected him for that and we just kept an open dialogue, telling him that we still wanted him back, and sure enough, he came back. I’m blessed to have him and his brother. I’d coach them forever if I could.”
The Jazuks currently live together in American Canyon, a good hour commute from Angwin. That drive gives them plenty of time to dissect games and practices, which they say they do practically every day.
Their interest and commitment to the game is one of the things that stands out to Rahn. He said they’re keen to learn and improve and are constantly asking questions in practice, something Rahn wishes more of his players would do.
“They’re both high IQ guys, both vocal guys, and that’s kind of a coach’s dream having that,” he said. “I love that, and all coaches, I think, do.”
For Ben, taking that approach is akin to how he’s approaching this year. He just wants to look back and say he gave it his best effort.
“I’m definitely not taking it for granted; that’s what I’ve been harping on,” he said. “I’m just trying to do everything I can so I don’t have any regrets. I’m always asking questions, reading scouting reports, watching film, doing everything I can to where I can look back and say ‘I can do everything right and leave no stone left unturned.’ That’s kind of what I’m living by.”
While Dan was not on the 2016-17 PUC team that won the CalPac Conference Tournament, he was around his younger brother constantly as he went through the trials and tribulations of the postseason. Because of that, other PUC players see a similar leadership quality in Dan that they see in Ben, who is a team captain this year.
“They both bring a lot of good advice, input, words of encouragement and wisdom,” said junior guard Albert Waters III. “It’s interesting because Ben has that championship and Dan doesn’t, but their knowledge is so similar. It’s kind of crazy. I guess that’s from being twins.”
The classic twin clichés – such as similar thoughts, interests and habits – are abundant between the two.
“We’re constantly thinking and saying the same things,” said Ben. “Like he’ll say something first and I’ll be like ‘Damn, I was thinking the same thing. Like word for word, I was about to say that and you just said it first.’ Sometimes we end up saying things at the same time.”
“When you see one, you see the other,” Waters III said. “They pretty much have the same classes and stuff, same major, so when you see one, you see the other.”
For all their similarities, there are a few stark differences. Aside from their height, Dan is left-handed while Ben is a righty. Rahn jokes that the basketball gods made them like that so they wouldn’t be able pull a fast one and switch jerseys midgame.
Ben and Dan said that someone once called them “mirror-image twins,” meaning they have similar qualities that are asymmetrical, and they’ve rolled with that explanation ever since.
As far as height goes, Dan still thinks he can make up the inch difference, even at 25.
“I still think I’m going to catch him,” Dan said. “I’m not giving up hope yet.”
So far this season, PUC is 7-10 overall and 3-5 in CalPac, tied for fifth place with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The Pioneers need to finish in the top four in the conference to qualify for the conference tournament. They have tough test in store on Thursday when they welcome conference-leading Antelope Valley before hosting last-place La Sierra on Saturday.
Following this weekend, the Pioneers will have five games left on their conference schedule, so time is running out to make a leap in the standings.
But whatever happens down the stretch, the Jazuk brothers will always remember and cherish this final season together, because for them, it’s not about wins and losses.
“I think it was really important because, years from now, we can look back and say that we got to play one year with each other,” Dan said. “We can look back, not even at the on-the-court stuff, but just being around each other.”