When Dublin Scioto High School boys tennis coach Mike Wrigley mentions that one of his players is the uncle of another one of his players, the person receiving the information usually is surprised and a bit confused.
Wrigley can relate. He remembers how he reacted when he learned the relation between junior Burkhon Yusupov, who was born in December 1995, and junior Babur Umarov, who was born eight months earlier.
"I've seen just about everything in my 35 years of coaching, but I've never seen anything quite like this on my team or any team I've coached against," Wrigley said. "I heard that we had an 'uncle' and a 'nephew' playing doubles together on our (junior varsity) team last year and I thought there's no way that I heard that right. And every time other people find out, they have that same reaction."
Umarov is not actually Yusupov's uncle. Yusupov's grandmother and Umarov's mother are sisters, making the boys first cousins once removed. But that doesn't stop them from referring to each other as uncle and nephew.
"When people find out that Babur is the same generation of my family as my father, they are always surprised because we're the same age and we're in the same grade together," Yusupov said. "Babur is my uncle, but we really think of each other as brothers because we're so close in age and we have a very close relationship."
Both boys were born in Uzbekistan, which in August 1991 declared independence from the Soviet Union. Four months later, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved into 15 independent states.
The Umarov family moved to the United States in 2005, followed by the Yusupov family in 2007. It was a difficult transition for the boys, who were fluent in Russian and Uzbek but spoke very little English.
"Our families moved here because there are better job opportunities and a better economy here, but it was rough at first because it was hard to communicate with people outside our family," Yusupov said. "In Uzbekistan, I have a lot of great childhood memories because there would always be 40 or 50 kids outside playing together. Not many kids play outside here, but my uncle and I still played a lot of soccer and tennis together."
Umarov and Yusupov were members of Scioto's junior varsity for two seasons but didn't see much playing time as freshmen. As sophomores, the two played as a doubles team in multiple matches.
"My uncle and I have different strengths and that's why we're a good doubles team," Yusupov said. "I'm better at placing the ball and keeping it in play, and he's more of a power guy. I'm pretty consistent playing defense in the back, and he's good at going to the net and putting shots away."
This season, Yusupov has been playing first or second doubles on varsity. Umarov has been playing first singles on j.v., but he was called up to varsity to play second doubles twice through nine matches.
"Playing varsity tennis has been challenging and playing No. 1 singles for j.v. is challenging, too, because I'm a better doubles player," Umarov said. "I enjoy playing doubles with my nephew, but I'm trying to become a better (all-around) player."
Through nine matches, Yusupov had a 6-3 record while teaming with three partners, including Umarov once in a loss at second doubles.
"Playing high school tennis has been a great experience for both of us," Yusupov said. "I'm proud to play varsity this year and I'm hoping I can play some singles matches before I graduate. It's been fun playing tennis with my uncle and we hope to play more doubles together this year."