ONE ANSWERS the question with a grimace, the other with a grin.
Did St. Benedict's ever beat St. Patrick's when you were in high school?
Corey Stokes frowns and shakes his head.
A few hours later, Corey Fisher gloats.
"It comes up from time to time," the St. Patrick's product says, "you know, how he never beat me in our high-school careers."
Jay Wright likes to call his team a basketball family. It's a family, all right, complete with kid brothers who like nothing better than to tease one another.
The Coreys, as they inevitably will come to be known, join Malcolm Grant (Malcolm-in-the-middle, graduate manager Mark McClintick suggests) as perhaps the most-hyped Wildcats class since Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Curtis Sumpter and Jason Fraser stepped on campus. Stokes is a McDonald's All-American, Fisher a Parade All-American and Grant a top-25 point guard.
Stokes and Fisher share a first name, a boatload of basketball talent and despite the high-school rivalry, a budding friendship. This weekend, for the first time, theywill share the court.
Villanova is taking advantage of a new NCAA wrinkle and heading to Canada for a three-game swing. Unlike summertime trips, Labor Day jaunts allow teams to include their freshmen, so a full month before Midnight Madness, Stokes, Fisher and Grant are practicing this week with their coaches and about to play games.
"So many times with freshmen during the preseason, they don't know why we're doing certain drills or what we're doing," Wright said. "Now when the preseason comes around, they'll understand what we do and why we do it."
Along the way, Stokes and Fisher might just understand each other.
They knew of each other for years. How couldn't they?
As juniors, it was Fisher who corralled a Stokes missed jumper and dished ahead the pass that led to the buzzer-beating bucket in a 45-44 St. Pat's win over St. Benedict's. A year later, Fisher netted 24 points leading St. Patrick's in a much less nailbiting, 66-60 victory, ending Stokes' and St. Benedict's stay as the No. 1 team in the nation.
In between those games, the two met on friendlier turf, connecting during the summertime ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J. They discovered they liked one another.
They also realized they were something of a Felix and Oscar, opposites who attract maybe because of their differences instead of in spite of them.
"I'm the laid-back one," Stokes said. "He's the loud one."
"No," Fisher responds. "I'm laid-back. He's the known guy on campus."
Stokes is a 6-5 guard/forward, a lanky body who can nail three-pointers as well as he can rebound. He grew up in Bayonne, N.J., where he rode the straight and narrow. Gifted from an early age as a basketball player, he never strutted or preened on the court. Articles from Stokes' high-school days say the one early knock on his game was that he was too passive.
"He's, I'm not sure of the word, maybe refined," Wright said. "He's very proper."
That's because his father, Ernest, and his mother, Karen, drilled it into him at an early age. Ernest Stokes was a good basketball player himself, good enough maybe to play in college. But when his father grew ill, he had to grow up in a hurry. School ended before high-school graduation, basketball was dashed.
Determined that their son wouldn't end up lost without basketball, Ernest and Karen hammered home the lessons of academics, even calling St. Benedict's coach Danny Hurley and threatening to yank their son off the team if he didn't reach their GPA standards.
"To tell you the truth, I don't like schoolwork that much," Stokes said, laughing. "But I also know I have to do it. I work really hard at it because without it, I don't have anything."
Fisher is Kyle Lowry. No, really. The 6-1 guard looks just like the ex-'Nova guard, right down to the New York Yankees cap on his head. He also has the spitfire attitude, zigging through traffic on the court and zagging one-liners off it. Asked who won when Lowry came around for some pickup games, Fisher didn't hesitate:
"I won," he said. "He kept trying to say I fouled him. But you know those NBA guys, that's how they get."
Told of the trash-talking, Lowry responded via text message that Fisher was his long-lost son. LOL.
Fisher's full name is Anthony Guy Corey Fisher, in honor of his uncle, Guy Fisher. Today, Guy Fisher lives 150 miles from his nephew's campus, serving a 25-year sentence for drug trafficking at Allenwood Federal Penitentary, near Williamsport. A onetime Harlem icon, Guy Fisher rubbed elbows with movie stars and pop stars as the owner of the renowned Apollo Theater. But his lifestyle and all of its trappings came crashing to an end in 1986 when Nicky Barnes, the subject of the movie "New Jack City," turned State's evidence against him.
"I've been to visit him," Fisher said. "He asked me about basketball, heard I was good and he told me to make sure I did the right thing, that I stayed away from the wrong crowd. He's been someone very important for me to talk to."
Her brother's fate also prompted Fisher's mother, La'Niece, to export her son out of the Bronx and into St. Benedict's despite what was a transportation nightmare of a reverse commute. Around 5:30 each morning, Fisher took a bus to a subway to an New Jersey Transit train to another bus to St. Patrick's in Elizabeth, racing to beat the 8 a.m. homeroom bell.
"It was worth it. It got me here," Fisher said.
Or was that Stokes?
The two are starting to sound an awful lot alike. *