Dec 16, 2013
By Tom Weber
CARBONDALE, Ill. - Colby Long's mom used to paint her son's toenails when he was a baby. Before you get the wrong impression, she did it so she could tell Colby apart from his brother, Caleb.
Such is the unusual life for identical twins. Colby and Caleb are the same in almost every way. They look alike, they sound alike, they both like the same things, including Saluki Basketball, where both have played as walk-on guards.
Throughout their sports careers, Colby and Caleb have been interchangeable. In Little League, one would pitch while the other played shortstop. Then they'd switch. On the basketball court, where the 5-foot-11 guards each averaged close to 20 points per game at Mt. Zion High, one would play the point and the other would play the 2-guard.
"Whoever was closest to the ball took the point," Colby said. "It didn't matter who did what."
They battled each other in driveway basketball games, competed together throughout high school, and then after graduation, they went their separate ways.
Caleb enrolled at Southern Illinois, where he appeared in eight games as a freshman in 2010. Colby went to Illinois but didn't play basketball. Last summer, he transferred to SIU and picked up where his brother left off as a walk-on guard for the Salukis.
"Caleb quit basketball when he joined the ROTC his sophomore year, because he didn't think he could balance the two," Colby said.
Walk-on Colby Long has played meaningful minutes in SIU's last three games.
Both are currently members of the ROTC at Southern Illinois and will serve four years as an officer in the Army after college. "It's a family tradition," Colby explained. "My grandfather was in the Navy and I have uncles who served in the Army. I think less than one percent of our population are in the military. It's a unique experience, and being an officer is a good opportunity to learn to lead other people."
"Caleb is more of an extrovert and I'm more introverted," Colby explained. "My mom said she knew when I was at home shooting hoops in the driveway, that Caleb was up to no good with our neighborhood friends and they'd have to go look for him."
One thing the boys didn't do growing up was take advantage of their similarities to fool people. They never pretended to be the other in class, for example.
"We got mistaken so much that we never tried to trick people," Colby said. "It happened on a daily basis."
When Colby first moved to Carbondale, he was constantly mistaken for his better-known brother.
"People would start coming up to me and talking, thinking I'm Caleb," he said. "Finally I'd say, `I have no clue who you are. I think you're thinking of my brother.'"
Even Caleb's wife mistook Colby for her husband once when they were out on the town.
The similarities between the 22-year-old siblings are endless. They're both Chicago Bulls fans. Colby said they are "the least pickiest eaters ever." They think so much alike that they often complete each other's sentences.
"One day, I was on the internet looking something up, and he said that's crazy, because he was just looking at the same thing earlier," Colby laughed.
The two live within walking distance of each other and hang out together almost every day. One of their favorite topics is Saluki basketball, where Colby is starting to earn meaningful minutes as the team's backup point guard during the last three games -- including wins over Fresno State and Green Bay.
"I'm very thankful for the opportunity," he said. "The progress from the first day I started until now is amazing. I'm kind of anxious to see where I'm going to be at the end of the year."
He admits there was a significant adjustment period during the first few weeks of practice.
"My teammates are athletic and quick, and I wasn't used to the speed, but playing with them every day has prepared me for the minutes I get on the court," he said.
Colby said the minor inconveniences of having an identical twin are nothing compared to the benefits.
"He's been my best friend and I'm thankful to always have him there to sharpen me, and I can sharpen him," Colby said. "I was never lonely growing up. He's someone I can talk to if I'm having troubles. The advantages far outweigh the disadvantages."