DiLeos give BCL a new brothers rivalry
BONN/VECHTA (Germany) - There have been plenty of brothers who have played in the first three seasons of the Basketball Champions League. But the DiLeos are a bit different since they play for different teams with TJ DiLeo the starting point guard for Telekom Baskets Bonn and Max DiLeo a defensive stopper off the bench of European debutants RASTA Vechta.
Both teams have surprised some in Europe: Bonn topping Group D with a 6-3 record despite struggling in the German BBL while Vechta have put together a 5-4 record in Group B, including a road victory at AEK Athens. And the DiLeos both have played major roles in their teams' success.
"I think they play better when they are doing well, the team energy and confidence looks a lot better if they have a few good plays. The same goes for the opposite. If they don't have the best start to a game and are struggling a bit they seem like a different team out there. As the season goes on they need to keep consistent high confidence and energy throughout entire games even if things aren't going their way and I think that will help show just how good of a team they really are," said Max of Bonn's Jekyll and Hyde season.
Max DiLeo has been a menace on defense for BCL opponents
While TJ offered up the following estimation of Vechta's first compaign on the continental trail: "They play hard every second they're on the floor. That will always give them a chance to win games. I think they are one of those teams that will get better and better throughout the season. I think playing two competitions will allow them to get experience because they have lots of new players that are trying to learn everything."
The brothers' trail to a basketball career and the BCL really started in Philadelphia. TJ was born in Germany in Dusseldorf into a basketball family. His father is Tony DiLeo, an American who was coaching in Germany back in the 1980s and 1990s. The family moved to the United States in 1990 and Tony started working for the Philadelphia 76ers as a scout and worked his way up to general manager and head coach of the NBA team. And Max was born in Philadelphia in 1993.
Love for Allen Iverson
With a father as Sixers GM, it was no surprise that the DiLeo boys grew up watching Allen Iverson.
"The Iverson era was amazing. Every game was electric and was just so much fun to experience up close," said TJ. "The coolest player to interact with and be around was Lou Williams. Just a genuine all around guy that is respected around the league."
Max also fondly recalls those 76ers games.
"It was such a great experience growing up having the opportunity to watch and meet some of the best players and this grew my love for basketball," said Max, who is almost three years younger than TJ.
And while Iverson was a cultural icon - especially for those in Philly - Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were the ultimate hit: even for the sons of the 76ers GM.
"I have a lot of memories from those days but one of my favorite is when I was the ball boy for Michael Jordan's last game because it was in Philadelphia. It was so cool just to pass him the ball as he was warming up even though he was on the other team," Max laughed.
"We saw many good games but the most memorable was seeing Michael Jordan's last game of his career which was in Philly," remembered TJ.
Basketball was always part of the DiLeos' lives as their mother also played basketball in Germany - and actually was more involved in coaching of the brothers since father Tony was often on the road with the 76ers.
"My mom did a lot of coaching for us growing up. She coached some of our youth teams and worked at camps that we were at. As we got older my dad was always there to work us out during off-seasons and help us get better. But now we can talk to both of them after games to get their analysis," TJ said.
Max said both parents were very involved in his development, adding: "My father helped more fundamentally and working on our skills, my mom helped more with giving us confidence and showing us what things we needed to do to win games. To this day they both help us a lot giving up tips after each game and even in the summers when we work out my father rebounds and my mom gives us passes. It's great to spend time with them like that doing what we love."
TJ DiLeo ended up going to Temple University and headed to Germany in 2013 to play for Giessen 46ers in the German second division ProA. He helped the club get promoted to the German BBL the next season and played in the country's top flight for the first time in 2015-16. DiLeo moved to Bonn in 2016 and has been playing there since then, extending his contract with the club in June 2019 until 2021.
"It's really cool to see how much he has improved, and how big of a role he has on his team. I look up to him in a lot of ways and I hope as my career goes on I can develop as much as he has," Max said of his older brother.
Max DiLeo meanwhile finished his studies at Monmouth University in 2015 and also started his career in Germany's second division with Rockets Gotha, playing two seasons with the ProA side and then moving to Rhein Stars Cologne in 2017 and playing one season for former German international star Denis Wucherer, who coached TJ in his first two seasons at Giessen. Max made the jump to the BBL last season, playing for Vechta in 2018-19 and making his mark as a defensive ace in the backcourt who can knock down a three-pointer as well.
No big deal, just two minutes of Max DiLeo being Max DiLeo... pic.twitter.com/X3FrmPfvza— Matthias Schmidt (@Dantinho31) September 26, 2019
"I think he's playing the role that Vechta needs him to play: bringing energy and playing great defense. I think he's done that well so far this season," TJ said of his younger brother.
DiLeo vs DiLeo
The 2018 Christmas season brought a special memory for the DiLeo family as Bonn hosted Vechta, meaning the brothers would face off for the first time in an official game.
"I was really excited and nervous. It was a weird feeling, different than a normal game. But as soon as the game started it went away and it was like any other game. My parents actually hate when we play each other because they never want to see one of us disappointed after the game," said TJ, who had to bear a 92-87 overtime home loss to Vechta. "It was disappointing, but he didn't talk trash after."
"We won in overtime, it was a hard game and my brother and I both played well. I remember TJ hit a shot to send the game into overtime, and looking back on it I'm glad he did that and played well because I want the best for him with my team still getting the win," he joked about the game in which he had 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists and TJ had 9 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists.
TJ's revenge followed on Valentine's Day 2019 with a 117-112 Bonn double-overtime road win with the Bonn guard picking up 16 points and 8 assists.
"It was nice to get revenge. It was an important part of our season where we needed a win, so that felt great," TJ said.
"Of course TJ was extra motivated for that game because if he didn't win that I would have all summer to talk trash to him haha. He really played an amazing game and had some big plays down the stretch that pushed them to victory," said Max, who had 0 points and 2 assists in the loss.
Max and Vechta got the better of TJ and Bonn again this season with a 95-83 victory at home on November 2. The teams will meet again on April 28, 2020 in Bonn.
Of course, TJ will be looking for another bit of revenge, but he still feels odd facing his younger brother in the pro ranks.
"It's great and something I'll remember forever. Again, it's a weird feeling because I’ll always be rooting for him except the games against us," TJ said.
Max really enjoys playing his older brother - even though things change a lot in the build-up to that game.
“I HOPE THAT WE DON'T PLAY AGAINST EACH OTHER UNTIL AS LATE AS POSSIBLE, I WOULD HATE TO KNOCK (BONN) OUT OF THE COMPETITION EARLY.”
"Honestly it's such a weird experience, however I do love it. The week leading up to the game is the most strange where we normally talk to each other about upcoming games, this week we talk a little less and prepare ourselves for the game. Like I said before I want him to do well but we are both competitors so we will do whatever it takes to win," the younger brother said.
While a match-up is already set for the end April, both German teams are still alive for the Basketball Champions League Playoffs. And how much would both brothers like a Bonn-Vechta/DiLeo-DiLeo match-up in the BCL post-season?
"It would be amazing. Any game between the two teams is always a battle. Having that much on the line would make it even better," TJ said.
"I hope that we don't play against each other until as late as possible, I would hate to knock them out of the competition early haha."
That would add another dimension to the history of brothers in the Basketball Champions League.