After Bloomsburg University basketball doubleheaders, Emma and Sam Saxton go to McDonald's to get a McFlurry.
“It’s our post-game tradition,” said Emma, a 5-foot, 9-inch sophomore guard for the women’s basketball team. Her brother, Sam, is a 6-3 redshirt junior guard on the men’s squad. “Last year I got mostly M&M, but this year has been an Oreo year.”
It’s not uncommon in high school for siblings, such as Emma and Sam, to both play sports at the same time. In college, however, it’s rare that two basketball players from the same family go on to play at the same college, especially at the NCAA Division II level.
Both Sam and Emma are scoring around 10 points per game this season and say that their close relationship has helped them both on and off the court.
“It’s nice because I don’t get home sick as much,” Emma said. “When I’m missing my family, I can just call Sam up and get a McFlurry.”
Sam’s route to Bloomsburg: Sam graduated from Central York in 2015 as a 1,000-point scorer and went to Le Moyne College, a D-II school in upstate New York, to play basketball.
Before his freshman season, however, Sam collapsed while working out, and was taken to the hospital. Doctors told him he must take six months off exercising to determine if his enlarged heart could be resolved by time off or if it was due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — a heart condition that could cause sudden death.
“I told my parents, and when they started getting upset, it hit me,” Sam said. “It was scary. I could have never played again if it had (been HCM).”
Kevin Schieler, Sam’s head coach at Central, still remembers the phone conversation he had with Sam.
“I know I was scared,” said Schieler, who is currently coaching the Saxtons' younger brother, Mitch. “Whenever it’s the heart, you never know. I could never imagine at that age that you can’t play a sport. Thank goodness for him that he was given a good prognosis.”
After six months, Sam’s heart shrank and he was able to return to basketball after using a medical redshirt in 2015-16. Le Moyne then got a new head coach, and Sam was told that he no longer had a scholarship to play. He transferred to Bloomsburg in the fall of 2016, playing 16.2 minutes a game as a guard with high efficiency from the field (58 percent) and from behind the arc (52 percent).
As a sophomore, Saxton was a regular starter for the Huskies, playing 25.4 minutes and scoring 5.8 points per game. This season, with the graduation of the program’s leading scorer, Saxton is scoring 9.6 points per game for the Bloomsburg men, who stand at 3-6.
“For him to put the muscle and strength back on and get back to the D-II level at Bloomsburg is amazing,” Schieler said. “I am glad it worked out for him.”
Emma’s route to Bloomsburg: Emma graduated from Central in 2017 and also scored 1,000 points for the Panthers. In fact, she scored seven more points than Sam did in his career — 1,114 to 1,107.
“I joke about it with him, but I wasn’t just trying to beat him,” she said.
When Emma was looking at colleges, she didn’t choose Bloomsburg just because Sam was there, but it was a factor.
“I wanted to go there because Sam was there, and our parents could see us play back to back,” she said. “I also loved the team and the coaches so much. It felt like home.”
Scott Wisner, Emma’s head coach at Central, said Bloomsburg was the “perfect fit” for her.
“I knew she had one opportunity at Robert Morris to play low D-I, but I knew she was a better fit for the PSAC and the D-II level. I’m not surprised she’s been successful because of the varied skill set she has.”
Emma started last season, scoring 7.3 points per game in around 25 minutes at the guard position. In the offseason, she vowed to become a better finisher. This season, she’s scoring 10.8 points a game on 53.5 percent shooting, which leads the team. The Huskies are 7-5.
“I have been better at finishing and creating shots for myself and others,” she said.
Defensively, Emma said she typically guards the opposing team’s best player and that she takes that part of her game seriously.
“Defense has always been a big part of my game,” she said. “I love defense. I take it as a challenge. I’m not scared to guard the other team’s best player.”
Wisner said she was the same way in high school.
“She’s always been that way,” he said. “She was lanky enough that she could guard small forwards and bigs, but still quick enough to stay with other team’s guards.”
Good relationship: Growing up, Sam said the three kids’ lives revolved around basketball.
“We have a couple of basketball hoops in our driveway, and we could go out and shoot and play against each other,” Sam said. “We were always traveling to our basketball tournaments growing up. It was a lot of basketball, but it was a lot of fun.”
Wisner saw the Saxtons' relationship in high school as one that improved the skills for each of the siblings.
“They both nurtured each other, but they also pushed each other and were supportive of each other,” Wisner said. “Emma emulated her brother and looked up to him.
Sam said he was happy when Emma decided to come to Bloomsburg, even if it isn’t what most older brothers would want.
“I feel like most people would say they don’t want their younger sister at college,” he said. “I don’t mind it. I enjoy it. We’re close with each other.”
In high school, Sam said he couldn’t watch Emma play because the girls’ and boys’ games were played at different venues. In college, though, the two play doubleheaders, allowing the two siblings to watch each other play.
“It’s the first time I can really see her play basketball,” Sam said.
“I’m one of the biggest cheerleaders in the bleachers,” Emma said. “It’s hard to watch sometimes. I look up to Sam in life and in basketball, so it is really cool to watch him play.”
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at email@example.com.