The games were not for the meek.
Darin Johnson remembers that and rubbing out the welts on his forearms and forehead.
Growing up in Elk Grove, Johnson would challenge older sister Gena in front-yard one-on-one battles. It was intense, Johnson says, often ending with Gena throwing her arms up in triumph as she stepped over her fallen brother, muttering, "Yeah, who's got game?"
The siblings now unleash their skill and will on others, Darin as a powerful combo guard for Sheldon High School and Gena as a Big West All-Conference junior point guard for Pacific.
"Oh, we went at each other hard, all the time, and she beat me a lot," said Darin, whose Huskies play Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in tonight's CIF Northern California Regional Open Division championship game at Sleep Train Arena. "That really motivated me. I used to think, 'What do I have to do to beat her?' I'd work extra hard, and she'd show no mercy. I finally got her when I was in eighth grade. Now she won't play me."
The siblings grew closer and now are "like bread and butter," Darin said. They try to watch each other's games when their hectic schedules allow, and they text or phone regularly to discuss family, studies and their basketball dreams.
Gena, who played at Franklin High, has averaged 11.7 points this season for the Tigers, who will play Cal Poly in the Big West tournament final today. Darin followed Gena at Franklin and excelled for three seasons before his in-district summer transfer to Sheldon.
Sometimes when a standout player joins a star-studded team, egos can get in the way, but that didn't happen at Sheldon.
Darin knew the Huskies were led by four-year varsity players Dakarai Allen and D'Erryl Williams, and he blended in from the start. Darin is headed to Washington on scholarship.
"He's been a great fit here," Williams said. "We know what he can do and he knows what we do."
Darin looks like he's ready to play college basketball now he's 6-foot-4 with a shooting range seemingly anywhere within halfcourt. Earlier this season, he scored 42 points against state-ranked Deer Valley of Antioch. In Tuesday's NorCal semifinal, he had five three-pointers and two dunks among his 24 points in a 63-59 overtime victory against Salesian of Richmond, the No. 1-ranked boys team in the state.
"(Sheldon) has a lot of firepower, and when Johnson stretches the floor like he did (against Salesian), then it's very, very tough to slow him or them down," Mitty coach Tim Kennedy said.
Still, Darin isn't satisfied. He breaks down his game and sees flaws. He wants to improve his ballhandling and his perimeter game.
"Every season, I want to get better," Darin said. "My weakness coming into this season was my perimeter skills, my three-point shot.
"I felt I needed a better shot. So every day, I was putting in more work, a lot of reps. I can still get better, to get stronger, because you can't be satisfied. You have to want more."
Those were lessons he learned the hard way in those front-yard showdowns against his sister.