As Amber and A.J. Storr were walking out of the gym at Kankakee High School on Wednesday, a night off for both of their basketball teams at the school, the conversation was still on basketball, more specifically the NBA 2K video game.
The siblings, along with Jonel Jones, their mother’s longtime partner and part of their support system, reminisced on the time Amber beat A.J. on the sticks.
“That was on like, NBA 2K12,” A.J. recalled.
Just like all of their other basketball memories, it’s something they couldn’t forget.
For Amber, a star senior on the Kays girls basketball team, and A.J. a flourishing junior on the boys team, basketball has been in their blood. The children of Annette Brandy, a 1994 Clemente (Chicago) Community Academy graduate who went on to play at Illinois Central College and the University of Missouri-St. Louis before a semi-pro stint, the Storr siblings have continued where their mother left off.
“Their uniforms were sagging off, and the ball was bigger than their bodies,” Brandy said of her kids’ earliest playing days. “Way back since when they started playing, they slowly developed a love for the game.”
Just like 2K and youth basketball, Amber and A.J. take in some hoops by watching the college and professional levels, even recording games to watch later on. In the summer, during WNBA season, that means catching a lot of Candace Parker’s games, Amber’s favorite player and a 12-year WNBA veteran, winning a pair of MVP awards and five all-star selections during that span.
After Amber passed Parker, a 2004 Naperville Central graduate, on the Illinois High School Association career scoring list Tuesday, the women’s hoops icon was one of the first to congratulate Amber on the accomplishment with a tweet.
“Congrats Amber! Cheers to more buckets!” Parker tweeted Tuesday night, much to the surprise of the girl who grew up wanting to be just like her.
Congratulations Amber! Cheers to more buckets!🙌🏾 https://t.co/xjGJWePZ6e— Candace Parker (@Candace_Parker) February 5, 2020
“It was definitely cool tying her for 16th place,” Amber said. “If someone would have told me that my freshman year, I never thought I would get close to her.”
That freshman year for Amber was spent at Rockford Lutheran, as was her sophomore year and A.J.’s freshman year. But when their mom got a job teaching physical education at Taft Elementary School in Kankakee before the 2018-19 school year, a change of scenery, and schools, was in order.
Amber, as reserved off of the court as she is aggressive on it, said switching schools was tough at first, but A.J.’s beaming personality helped her ease her way in.
“I’m shy, and it’s hard for me to open up to people, but my brother could meet a friend in a day,” Amber said. “In five minutes, he could become your best friend. But he helped me find new people.”
A.J., who also saw varsity minutes his freshman year in Rockford, said the playing style in the Southland Athletic Conference is something that stuck out to him early on.
“It was different in Rockford because the competition wasn’t as good,” A.J. said. “We play Southland teams, and the difference is [it’s] better.”
Amber was deemed a star early on, earning recognition as a recruit by national outlets such as ESPN by the time she was a sophomore, and A.J. has started his ascent as a junior this season, serving as a starting wing for a Kays team that sits at 19-3 on the season, averaging 12 points, four rebounds and three assists per game.
“There’s an evaluation thought in the hoops game where people talk about scoring at all three levels — paint, mid-range and from deep — he’s able to do that,” boys basketball coach Chris Pickett said. “That makes him a college prospect. He has room for growth on the boards and on the defensive end, but his ability to score the ball gets him in the door.”
A.J. is just starting his own college recruitment, not long after Amber put an end to hers. Last year, Amber, who leads the area with a 32 points-per-game average, committed to Drake University in Des Moines, a Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse that has made three straight NCAA Tournaments.
“I just like their mentality. They want to be the No. 1 school even though they’re a mid-major,” Amber said of her future college. “They don’t back down from anything and expect the best from all their players.”
Amber has reached several milestones and accomplishments, her tying of Parker being just the most recent. She’s just more than 200 points away from reaching the Top 10 on the career scoring list, an achievable feat should the Kays make a lengthy postseason run. And by the time the dust settles, she also could find herself in the Top 20 in both career and single-season points-per-game averages, two lists Brandy herself is on.
Brandy has been thrust into a more directly effective role on the stretch run of Amber’s senior season, as she was named interim coach of the girls basketball team last week after the resignation of John Maniatis.
Fittingly, Brandy will be on the sidelines for the end of Amber’s prep career, the same spot she held for most of her youth career, including an IESA State Championship when Amber was in eighth grade, further adding to the closeness basketball has given the family.
“As challenging as it may get, we try [to] separate the mother-daughter and coach relationship,” Brandy said. “I try to give her feedback while we’re in the car, and when we get home I switch that hat to mom.”