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Tennessee-Vanderbilt rivalry strengthens with help from brothers

9:45 AM, Jul 2, 2013   |    comments
  • Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Nicodemus Christopher, left, works with UT basketball player Jarnell Stokes. / Tennessee sports information
  • Garry Christopher was hired in June to be Vanderbilt men's basketball strength and conditioning coach. His brother has a similar job at Tennessee. / Jae S. Lee / The Tennessean
    
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Written by Marc Torrence, The Tennessean

When Garry Christopher was hired as the Vanderbilt men's basketball strength and conditioning coach last month, he got a phone call from his brother, Nicodemus.

He congratulated Garry on getting the job, but Nicodemus, who holds the same job at Tennessee, also wanted to talk a little smack.

"There was a little trash talking going on back and forth, of course," Garry Christopher said. "I told him my boys would definitely be the stronger end of the court. And of course he asserted himself, telling me the same."

Garry and Nicodemus Christopher spent their childhood competing in whatever they could find. Most nights, the brothers took to a dirt basketball court in the backyard of their San Diego home, pretending to be Michael Jordan or Karl Malone. Being the only brothers among seven siblings and separated by just 11 months, there was always something.

Now, they'll be competing on a much larger stage.

"It's going to be very interesting in the Christopher household, to say the least," Nicodemus Christopher said. "We're just that sibling rivalry. Whether it was athletics, who's the strongest, who's the fastest, who can eat more - anything that you can compete about, Garry and I were competing."

The brothers followed similar career paths that brought them to the Southeastern Conference.

They moved from San Diego to Texas during their early teenage years and graduated from Baylor with degrees in health and human performance. After Nicodemus Christopher earned a master's in kinesiology from the University of Texas at Tyler, he was hired at Purdue in 2011 to oversee the strength program for softball and women's tennis, while assisting with men's basketball.

When he was hired by Tennessee after a year, Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter wanted someone similar to Nicodemus Christopher, so he brought in Garry Christopher, who was hired by Vanderbilt just a year later.

"I just see this as being a high comprehensive program that, bar none, I want to accelerate above those in other states, other universities," Garry Christopher said. "I think with the coaching staff and myself we can have a very prominent and well-established program."

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said Painter spoke highly of Garry Christopher during the interview process.

"He's a hustler, he's a high-energy guy, he's got great motor," Stallings said. "We're just real excited that he's here and really feel like that he can do a lot of things for our athletes in terms of performance, preparation and enhancement. I think he'll do a great job of having these guys as fit and as strong and yet as lean and ready to go as anyone."

Garry Christopher already is learning about the rivalry with Tennessee.

"Of course coming in I was made known, and I knew a little bit about it," he said. "But definitely when you're here, you know more about orange. Better not show up to work in orange."

Vanderbilt will be pleased if Garry Christopher can have the same success against his brother as he did when they were younger. Garry Christopher said he would win 95 out of 100 times, but the times he did lose, being the older brother, it was agony.

"I hate to admit it ... but I rarely beat Garry back in the day," Nicodemus Christopher said. "I think the story might change now."

Garry Christopher is trying to make his mark early at Vanderbilt during the team's summer workouts.

"If people come in the weight room, they think I'm a football coach," Garry Christopher said. "I've always been big on practice what you preach. So I'll hop into workouts with my guys. I'll run with my guys. Never a dull moment. When you come in here, it's going to be an atmosphere that's just lit up."

Senior forward Rod Odom said the enthusiasm is contagious.

"He gets guys excited to lift. He's really into it, so that helps," Odom said. "He makes sure the guys are intense and picks everybody's energy level up."

Despite being on opposite ends of the rivalry, Garry and Nicodemus Christopher still swap ideas, sharing experiences from their time in the field. But they can't share too many secrets.

"We're here to support each other," Nicodemus Christopher said. "Being in the same profession and being brothers, why not bounce ideas off of each other? ... But we understand that there's business that needs to be settled. So what happens at Tennessee happens at Tennessee, and what happens at Vanderbilt happens at Vanderbilt.

"It's kind of an interesting dynamic, but that sibling rivalry is definitely still there."

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