Joe Shipp is speaking almost 15,000 miles from his home in Los Angeles and about as far from the Pacific 10 Conference basketball drama as a man can get.
Shipp, 27, is playing for the Perth Wildcats in Australia's National Basketball League. He is playing so far from home because of his love of basketball more than for the money and the pace of his voice quickens and his low tone suddenly resonates when he speaks of a game that will take place tonight in Tempe, Ariz.
"You can't ask me for a winner," Shipp says. "I'm just happy my brothers are both playing for Pac-10 winners."
When fourth-ranked UCLA, 24-3 overall and 12-2 in the conference, plays at Arizona State (17-9, 7-7), redshirt junior Josh Shipp of the Bruins will lock eyes with sophomore Jerren Shipp of the Sun Devils. The brothers, if they could, would give a nod to Joe, for it was the path laid down by the biggest brother that has given the conference Shipp basketball.
"I don't want to sound like I'm making a brag," Joe said, "but I definitely get excited when I see Josh and Jerren playing against each other in the Pac-10. It's kind of cool, our own little tradition because I started it. I like to think they're following me in my footsteps. I don't root for one over the other. So I'll just root for the game."
As far as the conference can tell, no other set of three brothers has started for three different teams. Shon Tarver was a UCLA starter in the mid-1990s and his brothers Seth and Josh start now for Oregon State. Brook and Robin Lopez, who start for Stanford, had an older brother, Alex, who played briefly at Washington but didn't start and left for Santa Clara.
Joe Shipp made a large mark, leading the Pac-10 in scoring during his senior season at California in 2003. He played on three NCAA tournament teams.
When Josh chose to play at UCLA it was partly so he could make his own reputation and not be Joe's little brother. Josh has made his own reputation at UCLA by helping the Bruins to consecutive Final Four appearances. Jerren is trying to do the same by being part of a successful rebuilding effort at Arizona State.
While Joe and Josh were obvious Pac-10 quality players, it took Jerren more time to find his way as the same kind of elite player.
"It was a really good day for me when I found out Arizona State was interested," Jerren said. "Because from the time I can remember, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my brothers. I wanted to be a Pac-10 guy too."
Harvey Kitani, who coached all three brothers at Fairfax High, said it was an honor. Joe, Josh and Jerren were natural athletes. Their father, Joe Shipp, was a USC football player. Their grandfather, James Knight, served as a tutor in the beauty of a well-executed backdoor cut, the soundness of a bounce pass and the necessity of playing for the good of a team and not of oneself.
Their mother, Debbie, who worked as a flight attendant while the boys and their sister, Brittney, were growing up, and Joe, who often worked a night shift for a beer distributor, taught the boys that playing together at the park during the day and studying at night was the way to take care of each other.
Grandpa James coached the little boys from the time they could put one foot in front of the other.
Debbie was the chauffeur. Debbie says there should be a plaque on a bench at Fairfax High memorializing her backside for the thousands of hours spent watching one son or another playing youth games and high school games. Their dad made the living, worked nights or weekends and offered the counsel, Joe said, "that we shouldn't play football. He wouldn't let us when we were kids. He said you could get hurt and we couldn't play until high school."
Josh and Jerren picked up the spare basketballs, toddled after Joe and bugged their big brother to let them play. A consensus is that Josh is the most outgoing of the three brothers and the most versatile player, that Jerren is the physically strongest and that Joe is the best shooter, though when it comes down to it, Debbie said, Josh might win a game of H-O-R-S-E. If there is a Shipp style, Josh said, it would be smart. "Knowing the game," he said. "Doing the little things."
UCLA will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1968 national championship team with a pregame reception and halftime ceremony on March 8 when the Bruins close out the regular season against California at Pauley Pavilion. The team will receive national championship rings. They received watches 40 years ago. The team, coached by John Wooden and led by junior center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and guards Lucius Allen and Mike Warren, finished 29-1.
at Arizona State, 7:30 PST, Prime
Radio -- 1150.
Site -- Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.
Records -- UCLA 24-3 overall, 12-2 Pac-10; Arizona State 17-9, 7-7.
Update -- Four freshmen have made 73 starts for the Sun Devils, who are fighting for an upper-level position in the conference and a chance at an NCAA at-large bid. Coach Herb Sendek has moved freshman forward Rihards Kuksiks into the starting lineup since UCLA's 84-51 win over Arizona State last month. Kuksiks had a career-high 15 points in the Sun Devils' 77-63 win over Washington last week. Freshman James Harden leads the team in scoring at 18.0 points a game. Arizona State played mostly zone defense against UCLA so the Bruins hope Josh Shipp can end an 0-for-20 streak from three-point range.
UCLA VS. ARIZONA STATE
Tonight at Tempe, Ariz., 7:30 PST, FSN Prime Ticket