The love for the game of basketball runs in the Robarge family.
It was common for Thomas, Tyler and Julia Robarge to spend hours playing against each other on the family’s court in a shed at their home. Now the high school gymnasium at Chi-Hi has served as home for all of them, including this year for Thomas and Tyler as they and the Cardinals have gotten off to strong starts entering a pair of games this week.
Tyler (15.5 points per game) and Thomas (9.9 PPG) rank first and third, respectively, on the team in scoring and have made a seamless transition on the court as teammates after years playing against each other for the Cardinals, a team that enters the new year tied with River Falls atop the Big Rivers Conference standings.
“They’re two very fine young adults,” Chi-Hi coach Jason Proue said. “They definitely have their heads on straight, you can tell they were raised the right way and they look out for not just each other but they look out for everyone.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-3 senior, is the older of the two brothers but it’s not entirely fair to refer to the 6-foot-8 Tyler as the ‘little’ brother.
It wasn’t always that way. The two brothers separated by one year in school grew up roughly the same size until Tyler hit a growth spurt in middle school. Suddenly Thomas needed a new angle to survive those games of one-on-one against his now larger brother.
“Shooting became my best friend (in games against Tyler),” Thomas said. “It was a necessity.”
That work on long-distance shooting has paid off for Thomas as he has become one of the top 3-pointer shooters in Chippewa County, entering the week tied for fifth among boys basketball players in threes made with 18. He was second on the team in scoring a season ago (8.4 PPG) for a Cardinal team that advanced to the Division 1 regional finals before falling to eventual state champion Stevens Point.
Earlier this month he committed to play basketball collegiately at UW-Superior for coach Greg Polkowski. He got a good scouting report on the school and program — Proue played collegiately there and former Chi-Hi standout Nate Kalien is a senior on the team.
Tyler has taken a big step forward down low for the Cardinals this season, more than doubling his points per game output (from 6 PPG last season to 15.5 PPG thus far) and having his share of memorable moments. Tyler scored a season-high 29 points in Chi-Hi’s 73-67 double overtime win over D.C. Everest on Dec. 5, a win he capped with a thunderous two-handed dunk to clinch the victory.
Like his older brother, Tyler has drawn interest collegiately and spent much of the offseason working on his game near and away from the basket.
“I wasn’t the best with my left hand and that’s what I’ve tried to improve this offseason. My mid-range (shot) has also improved,” Tyler said.
Julia was an all-conference player for the Cardinal girls basketball team before graduating in 2016.
Thomas and Tyler have been two key cogs in a Chi-Hi machine that has big expectations.
Since falling to Hudson in the team’s season opener on Nov. 28, the Cardinals have won road conference games at Menomonie, Rice Lake and Eau Claire Memorial to put them in a tie with the Wildcats atop the league standings with a pair of important games on the horizon. Chi-Hi hosts River Falls on Jan. 9 before playing at Eau Claire North three days later on Jan. 12.
Early on in the season, success for the Cardinals has come from strong play at the defensive end of the floor and teamwork. Thomas is confident the team will improve on the offensive end to go with that defense as the team looks to remain in contention for the program’s first conference title since the late 1980s.
“The effort and the attitude and toughness all has to be there for us to win conference and we just have to focus in one game at a time,” Thomas said.