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Family Tradition of Winning

Pretty much everyone in North Central Pennsylvania has learned by now that the Loyalsock Lancers beat Brookville to win the PIAA Class AAA state title at Hershey’s Giant Center with a score of 75 to 53. What many people may not know, however, is that three of the players are related. Idris and Saraj Ali are brothers, and Dom Jennings is their cousin. When asked if the boys always wanted to play basketball, Marty Jennings, father to Dom, responded, “No, when they were little, we had to talk all of them into it and eventually signed them up for the John Bower League.” Zaid Ali, father of Saraj and Idris, said, “If you asked them early on if basketball was their favorite sport, they would have said ‘No.’ Their first love was football. They come from a very athletic family, and I knew basketball would be their sport, however.”

The three began their career playing for Saint Ann Catholic Church in Williamsport. “We had to wheel the baskets out every time we wanted to practice and did that for two or three years,” said Marty Jennings. “We watched them develop and get good over time. They became competitors and learned game intelligence.”

Because Dom, Idris, and Saraj were family, they spent a lot of time together and developed a chemistry that is uncommon. With that came a camaraderie that fostered a winning attitude. This mindset, in turn, attracted other smart, athletic players. “Me and my cousins always played church ball together,” said Dom Jennings. “The chemistry of our team is what made us successful. All the members of the team are family, not just me and my cousins. We would pass the ball, not caring who scored.” When asked if he felt strongly a state title would be part of his high school basketball career, Dom Jennings responded, “I’m not surprised we won states. We knew we were able to do it, especially because of our willingness to spread the ball. We gained more confidence during the state tournament after each win. Our eyes were on the prize. We did everything we could to win.” Jennings went on to say that he and his teammates greatly benefitted from the leadership of his cousin, Idris and that they fed off of his energy. Dom also added that he wanted to thank his family for instilling a winning attitude and his coaches for making them better players. “We have a great team with a tight bond.”

Mary Ungard, mother of Idris and Saraj, said, “I remember when the boys were little playing in the John Bower League. Idris was so passionate about basketball he’d want a new ball every year for Christmas because he would wear them out. They are all great boys, and it was awesome seeing them grow up and play together.” When asked if she and her family were all basketball fans, she responded, “Our house was obsessed with basketball. We were always watching a game, and the boys would play any chance they got at the YMCA and Northway Park. They never tired of basketball. They would watch footage of games they played. They would analyze the games and discuss how they could improve. They would also scout the competition both with their coaches and on their own and discuss tactics. They would watch every game of teams they were going to play.”

“Winning with Dom and Saraj was an amazing accomplishment,” said Idris Ali. “It was great to win states my senior year. Saraj is a junior now, so he’ll have to carry on. I think he’ll do great.” When asked about his winning attitude, he responded, “For every game, you need to go out and give 100% because it’s better to give 100% and lose than to think back wishing you could change something and have regrets.” Idris plans to attend college in the fall to study business and accounting but has yet to decide on a specific school. “I’d like to be an entrepreneur someday.”

When asked how he felt about winning a state championship and this year’s basketball season, Saraj Ali said, “I love it and hate it at the same time. I’ve been playing with family since I was five years old. It was great to win, but we will never get to play an official game together again.” Regarding the much-discussed team chemistry, Saraj said, “Watching film of our games you could see everyone knew where everyone else would be. What they’d do; how they’d play. We had the best chemistry in the state.” When asked if he had any advice for upcoming players, Saraj said, “Ignore the scoreboard and the fans. Play the game your way. At the end of the day, you’re playing for yourself and your teammates to win the game. Give it all you’ve got. The best part of life is high school and high school sports because you’ll never get it back again. So, go out and enjoy all four years.”

Both Marty Jennings and Zaid Ali said that they knew their children and their friends had something special. “I’m no psychic,” said Ali, “but I knew 5 or 6 years ago when they were in middle school that they’d win states.”

Regarding his sons’ state title, Ali added, “At no point was I nervous during the state tournament. Their biggest game was Executive Education. I watched them play, and they were good, but I didn’t think they could beat us. We were up, though they eventually cut into our lead. But, I knew we could beat them.” Ali went on to say that he and Marty Jennings would discuss the talent their sons and their teammates displayed at an early age. “They were beating much more notable teams at tournaments and have played well together for a really long time.” “I’m thankful and blessed to be a part of these kids’ lives,” added Marty Jennings. “To God be all the glory.”

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