Saturday afternoon, a group from Mississippi State’s softball team went to a home men’s basketball game, dressed up, held signs and cheered for … a senior guard on the Georgia squad.
10 years ago at their home in Georgia, Julia and Taylor Echols were in middle school and played basketball before dinner every night when the weather allowed. A little under a year older than Taylor, Julia was able to win games for the majority of their childhood, but eventually little brother caught up.
“I was bigger than him until about fifth grade, so I would own him all the time,” Julia said. “But then he got taller than me. We’d always play right before dinner and my mom said I’d run inside and complain that he was cheating, when really I couldn’t get a shot over him because he grew like five inches in one year. After fifth grade it was over.”
The two kept playing basketball as they grew older, but it was a bit more serious for Taylor, while Julia was excelling in softball. That didn’t stop them from cheering each other on in high school basketball, of course, when their respective boys and girls teams would play back-to-back and each would watch the other play.
Julia, the first to graduate, initially enrolled at nearby Georgia, having earned her way onto the UGA softball team.
The next year, Taylor followed big sister to Athens, but when he tried to play basketball, he found out the roster was full. They didn’t have space for any more walk-ons.
It was the following year when things changed for both. Julia transferred to Mississippi State, joining first-year head coach Vann Studeman’s softball team. Taylor got the call and found out the UGA basketball team had space for another walk-on. Seven tried out, and Taylor made the cut as a sophomore.
Now, they’re both seniors, both Bulldogs and both happy to be where they are, even if they don’t get to see each other as much.
“We text every other day,” Julia says. “We Snapchat a lot. I’ve been calling him a lot lately congratulating him because he’s gotten a lot more playing time recently. I’ll text him and joke with him about how he’s a big shot now because he walked on a few years ago and now he’s playing a lot.”
Said Taylor in the visiting locker room at Humphrey Coliseum, “I miss her a lot during the year when I can’t see her as much, but I know she loves it here. She loves the girls and the coaches and everything, so I’m happy for her.”
It’s worked out for Julia and Taylor, but what of their parents, Lee and Kim, who are trying to support two SEC kids and athletes at the same time? After all, it’s thanks to them that their children have such athleticism. Both were impressive athletes in their time, and dad even played a couple years of college ball.
“Everyone’s always joking with us about being the dream team family,” Julia admitted.
But it’s hard to keep track. Between basketball and softball, that’s close to 100 total games a year between their two kids, most of which are going on at the same time.
Sometimes, the schedules have come close to working out. In 2012, for instance, Taylor and UGA played a game in Oxford on Saturday, while Julia and MSU had a home series in Starkville, allowing the proud parents to go back and forth across Mississippi over the weekend.
They nearly had the perfect set up last year when UGA played MSU in basketball in Starkville. Unfortunately, Julia’s softball Bulldogs were on the road in Florida. As it turns out, an ice storm would have kept mom and dad at home anyway.
Finally, it was this week that it worked out perfectly. UGA played basketball in Starkville again, and this time it was a couple weeks earlier. Softball season had not yet begun and Julia got to go watch her brother play in her own place, and she got to sit with her parents while she did it.
“That’ll be the last game I ever get to see him play,” she said, “so that was pretty special.”
It was even their mom’s birthday on Sunday, so it really did work out perfectly.
Then, of course, there were Julia’s teammates at MSU. They’ve been hearing her talk and brag about her brother the basketball player for the last three years (“I always make them turn the TV on and watch when he has a game.”), so they were excited to be able to cheer for him in person, even if it did mean slight compromise from a fan perspective.
Taylor’s senior season will go on, and Julia’s last campaign begins in just over a week. She won’t get to see him play again, but if they’re lucky, Taylor will get to watch little sister in the postseason. Either way, they’ll represent both their school and their family as they go on, the name Echols stitched on the back of their uniforms.