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It was television that gave the Gony sisters their first introduction to the game of basketball.

"That Troy Bolton played basketball," Nyayongah said of when she first learned of the game.

"'High School Musical,' that's it!" Nyagoa added.

The sisters were referencing the mid-2000s Disney movies staring Zac Efron, who played Bolton, but there was also another reason the movies served as an introduction to the sport.

Both were born in South Dakota and moved to Lincoln when Nyagoa, now a senior at Lincoln High, was about 6 years old.

As first-generation Americans and children of South Sudanese refugees, they got a late start in the game. Nyagoa started playing hoops around seventh grade, and Nyayongah, now a sophomore at Lincoln High, started around sixth grade.

But with both now standing 6-foot-2 and fulcrums for the Links, how the Gonys came to find, and love, the game of basketball matters little.

"We are just so lucky to have those girls," Lincoln High coach Richard Jackson said. "Because they have, from last year to this year, they have kind of turned our program around."'

Lincoln High won just three games when Nyagoa (pronounced "Nah-gwa") was a freshman. As a sophomore, the Links won five.

Then last season, when Nyayongah (pronounced "Ny-un-gah") was a freshman, that win total doubled to 10.

This season the No. 10 Links have already matched that win total at 10-6, and with just over three weeks left in the regular season could be considered a state tournament dark horse.

For Nyagoa, who signed with Purdue in November, it was a burning passion to simply play that brought her to the game. She had older friends who played, and because it was still early in her career, she was admittedly not great in junior high. But she was also upset that she wasn't making the same select teams her friends were.

So. …

"I would practice every day," Nyagoa said. "Because I started so late, I had people tell me that I had potential and that I could get a free education through playing this sport. That's why I invested all the time through the years. That's why I knew. Because people told me that I was able to."

It was similar for Nyayongah, who had a more timid start. She was deathly afraid of having the ball thrown to her.

"I just wanted to be on the court," she said.

But it was also through encouragement from youth coaches and AAU coaches at Cornhusker Shooting Stars that "really amplified what I can do."

"It's, like, a lot now," Nyayongah said. "I can see what they were saying."

Therein lies some of the difference between the two on the court. Nyagoa is more of a true post but has an offensive game, plays defense, rebounds and runs the floor. Nyayongah is more of a true wing with ball skills and shooting range, and is already receiving college interest from junior colleges all the way up to Division I.

"She's developed her ball-handling abilities, she can shoot the three-point shot out there," Jackson said of Nyayongah. "She gives us a lot of options to work with."

And combined? Well, when the Links decide to slide both into the post, it creates problems for opponents.

"One of the advantages is we can have more ball pressure," Jackson said. "Because knowing that they're in the back end, it presents problems. When they (opponents) get down there, they see them and it's like 'OK, I can't go all the way.'"

As for the two on the court together, it's not much different from any other siblings.

"Sometimes we argue," Nyayongah said.

"But that's probably because we're sisters," Nyagoa finished.

But Nyayongah talked about having a sense where her sister is on the court, something Nyagoa expanded on.

"I understand her game," Nyagoa said. "Like setting a screen, and looking off the roll. Like basic plays like that. Or if she's posting up, I'll go high post."

And what about life without basketball? It wasn't a direct question posed to either, but Nyayongah brought up the exposure the game has provided both and the personal effects.

"I think I blossomed … as a person, playing basketball," Nyayongah said.

"It's more than a sport," Nyagoa added. "It's a lifestyle, and it kind of molded us into the people we are."

As the saying goes, "Ball is life."

Reach the writer at crobus@journalstar.com or 402-473-2646. On Twitter @ClintRobus.

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Digital sports editor

Clint Robus is the digital and assistant sports editor at the Journal Star.

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