Brothers now carry the Gauchos

Brian Shoemaker (Photo by Ron Robertson)

By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press

The Hindus floated the concept of brotherly love long ago with one of their proverbs: "Help your brother's boat across, and your own will reach the shore."

UCSB water polo star Brian Shoemaker once pushed brother Derek right into the water.

"We had to drag him to his first water polo game, literally drag him out of the house," said Brian, four years his brother's elder. "My dad picked him up by his hands and I picked him up by his feet. He was 9 or 10.

"That was his first experience playing water polo."

Derek, separated forcibly from his favorite cartoon show, wound up getting carried away with the sport for good.

"I liked it after my first game," he said. "After I scored my first goal, I was ready to play."

Cain and Abel might not have worked out so well, but siblings can accomplish greatness together.

The Wright Brothers achieved flight. The Marx Brothers stirred laughter. The Brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales.

The Shoemakers would like to create one of their own for UCSB water polo, which is off to its best start in five years with a 9-2 record and No. 6 national ranking.

The Gauchos are aiming even higher this weekend as they play host to all 12 of the nation's top-ranked schools in the 16-team Southern California Tournament. The event begins at 8 a.m. today at both Campus Pool and Dos Pueblos High's Elings Aquatic Center.

UCSB will open at noon against No. 11 UC San Diego in its own 70-year-old pool, a facility that has been targeted for replacement. But nobody appreciates the funky tradition of the place more than the Shoemakers.

"I like it better than the Rec Cen because of the surroundings," Brian said. "You get used to playing with these old fences and stands ... It's the Bad News Bears, you know?"

You get used to playing with your brother, too.

The Shoemakers are one of three sets of brothers — the others are Bryce and Jake Miller, and Dylan and Ryan Baliani — who now count the Gauchos as family.

"I really like recruiting brothers because they can share a special chemistry," UCSB coach Wolf Wigo said. "They grow up playing together and watching each other play, and really know each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"They usually work well together in the pool and just have that closer bond. Having family members on the team can help it bond even closer."

Wigo's two brothers actually grew up watching the Shoemakers, too, when they played together in the South Florida Water Polo Club for Wigo's father.

Brian Shoemaker was a three-time prep All-American for Florida's Cooper City High while playing for his own father, James. They both moved to Santa Barbara for Brian's senior year so he'd have a better chance of catching the eye of the other Wigo.

Shoemaker, now 23, wound up winning most valuable player honors for Dos Pueblos High.

"It helped get me exposed to the colleges out here, and was able to play high-level water polo," he said. "I loved it in Santa Barbara, and I thought the team had a good chance of succeeding.

"Derek and I wanted to play together, so he followed me here."

Derek, 19, began playing for Dos Pueblos as a sophomore, and his brother didn't waste time pushing him toward UCSB.

"Oh yeah, introducing me to his friends, showing me IV," Derek said. "In the pool, he's helped me out a lot, showing me some moves. He's helped me out a lot."

Derek graduated from DP as a second-team prep All-American.

Brian is one of UCSB's leading scorers with 14 goals while Derek isn't far behind with 10.

"Brian is a more of a physical, utility-type player who can post up and can play two-meters," Wigo said. "Derek is a really fast player who has great counter-attacking speed. He's also a good outside shooter."

The Shoemakers have felt at home in the water ever since they were toddlers.

"Our dad was a lifeguard, so we grew up on the beach," Brian said. "I just remember being a rug rat out there, charging it."

Both brothers are certified scuba divers who'll spend their spare time spear fishing and surfing. Brian, a Global Studies major who earned honorable mention Academic All-America honors last year, wants to join the Navy SEALs if his injured shoulder mends right.

"It's not painful now, but the strength just isn't there as much," he said. "I haven't had anyone go after my shoulder or anything like that, but you compensate with the other, just protect it a little bit more."

But just nobody dare go after his brother.

"I'm pretty protective," Brian said.

Derek said the Gaucho team he joined last year seems tighter than the one he watched from the stands.

"I feel like there were a lot of different cliques on the team, and last year and this year we've all been getting closer," he said. "We're all good friends. I think that's been a big step in our success."

The Shoemakers' own sibling rivalry, meanwhile, rarely boils to the surface.

"There are a few arguments here and there, but overall, we have some good chemistry," Derek said.

"No fists yet," Brian chimed in with a smile.

Not even in the day when being taken to the pool could be such a drag.

Mark Patton's column appears on Thursday and Saturday. Email: mpatton@newspress.com

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