By Michael Wagenman
The Rider basketball team is no stranger to siblings. Most recently, Jason and Ryan Thompson, and Patrick and Harris Mansell were playing together on the court. Now Derrick and Danny Stewart can be added to that list.
“There has definitely been a family atmosphere on our team with the Thompsons and the Mansells,” Head Coach Kevin Baggett said. “It definitely brings a sense of chemistry, having [the Stewarts] play together in high school and then bringing it over to Rider. They have really just been awesome for us since they’ve become a part of our program.”
Since coming to Rider from Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia, Danny Stewart has had a successful and memorable first two seasons as the Broncs’ starting power forward. As a freshman, he was named the MAAC Rookie of the Week twice, won MAAC Rookie of the Year award and was a Mid-Major Freshman All-American. As a sophomore, he led the Broncs in rebounds with nearly seven per game, and blocks, registering 27 for the year. He was also third in the MAAC in field-goal percentage with .561.
The 6’7” junior quickly became a fan favorite in the Broncs’ Zoo, thanks to his ferocious dunks and powerfully blocked shots. To him, the awards are an honor and the on-court success is fulfilling. However, this season will mean much more to him thanks to his new teammate, his brother freshman Derrick Stewart.
The younger Stewart, a 6’6” forward also from Neumann-Goretti, is one of six freshmen for the Broncs this season. He admits that he has much to learn about Division I basketball but is grateful to have his older brother as a teammate for guidance.
“Daniel doesn’t cut me any slack, and he always gives me the extra push to help me become a better athlete,” Derrick Stewart said. “I look at him as both my mentor and my teammate because he has been there before me.”
In the 2009-10 season, both players started on a Neumann-Goretti team that finished 30-1. That season, the brothers developed a strong on-court chemistry that continues to improve with each practice and game they play. Danny Stewart said that season was not just a valuable experience for his younger brother, who was a sophomore at the time; he credits much of his own development as a player to that 30-1 year as well.
“It was a great experience for me because Derrick played a lot,” Danny Stewart said. “We know where each other is [on the court] and can make plays for each other.”
The freshman forward learned a lot during that season. He grew to like playing alongside his brother, so being his teammate once again at Rider was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“Being Daniel’s teammate is fun,” he said. “On the 30-1 team, I felt as though he respected my defensive game and my contributions. It was a very competitive year.”
His older brother was not the only one to recognize his defensive talents, as last season he was named Defensive MVP of the Catholic League in Pennsylvania. The freshman credits much of his defensive skill to battling his brother on the court growing up and said those games improved his brother’s offensive talents as well.
“I’ve always played against bigger and older kids when I was growing up, including Daniel,” Derrick Stewart said. “I think that my defensive skills contributed to his aggressiveness and great offensive skills around the basket because I don’t give up easy buckets.”
Danny Stewart acknowledged his brother’s successful past, but he is focused on the current season. Being a good teammate to his brother and pushing him to improve is vital to the team’s success.
“I told Derrick that this is college, and the next four years are a journey,” Daniel Stewart said. “High school is over, and now everything has much more meaning. All the little details count.”
Although Derrick Stewart hasn’t hit the court as much as his brother, there are hopes that they will make an unstoppable duo in the future.
“Derrick isn’t playing as much as Daniel right now due to the fact that we have a couple of guys ahead of him,” Baggett said. “With that being said, I do think at some point the two of them will be a solid force and playing a lot together on the court.”
There has been no shortage of advice for the freshman and he said that he accepts it with an open mind from all of his teammates, not just his brother. He knows, however, that part of his job is to help the rest of the team improve as well, not just to sit back and learn from the upperclassmen. Derrick Stewart said that practices have inspired him and his brother to become better all-around players.
“We push each other to play harder, and we help each other keep composure against our opponents,” Derrick Stewart said. “We feed off of each other’s energy.”
Even this early into the season, the freshman’s attitude is positive, and the ambitions he has for himself and the team are high. He said there is always room for improvement and he will do whatever it takes to help the team win.
“My personal goals would be to improve my defensive game first and then my offensive game,” Derrick Stewart said. “My team goal would be to contribute as best I can so that we succeed and progress positively.”
As his teammate, Danny Stewart has already seen improvements in his younger brother’s game. He said that it’s a long season, and players have a lot to learn when they play basketball at the Division I level. The junior said he wants to be a mentor to his brother, just as former teammate Mike Ringgold, ’11, was to him. He offered the freshman a piece of advice to serve as the key to improvement and success as a Bronc.
“Be focused and be a sponge,” Danny Stewart said. “In order to get better, you have to listen.”