Van Zelst twins face off on the basketball court

By Seamus Feeley
December 6, 2023

Taken at Arcadia, Coach Ryan draws up a plan during a time out. Photo by Seamus Feeley.
Taken at Arcadia, Coach Ryan draws up a plan during a time out. Photo by Seamus Feeley.

Twenty minutes are on the clock and tip-off is underway. The coaches watch with anticipation and… identical faces.  

Ryan and Adam Van Zelst are twins. The Cavaliers, coached by Ryan, faced off against the Arcadia Knights, coached by Adam, on November 12 at Arcadia University. The journey from playing pickup on the driveway to coaching Division 3 basketball was a sentimental ride for the twins.  

To balance professionalism and emotion, Ryan respects his brother, but despite the strong emotions, he addresses the essential involvement of a coach being present for their team, regardless of the situation. According to Ryan, games like these are all about growth. He said there is no rivalry between the two. There is only love for his brother, the game, and his team.  

Growing up with basketball

Ryan recalled that from a young age the two were obsessed with basketball and used to fantasize about becoming NBA athletes. While growing up, the twins competed against each other from time to time.  

“You can imagine growing up we were competitive playing basketball together, playing games in the driveway, playing video games, playing made up games, you name it, the dumbest competitions,”  he said. 

A throwback photo of the Van Zelst twins. Photo courtesy of Ryan Van Zelst.

However, he stressed that although they had “sibling rivalries,” especially because of their involvement with the sport, he’d rather not engage against his brother at all. 

Van Zelsts played Division 3 basketball at Albright College. After graduating, they both took roles as assistant coaches for the team. Soon enough Adam decided to take his own path away from Albright which inspired Ryan to take his own “leap of faith.”  

Ryan said, “We always knew we wanted to coach, levels never mattered to us, Division 1, 2, or 3, it didn’t matter. We just wanted to impact people’s lives and be around the sport that we grew up loving. But to both be in the Philadelphia area at his point, coaching against each other, could we have imagined that? No, not in our wildest dreams.”  

Eventually, their paths crossed. The game on November 12 wasn’t the first time the twins coached against each other, but that didn’t mean it was any less difficult, Ryan said. “You’re always measuring yourself up against your brother, it’s inevitable. We’re in a competitive environment every day, so there’s some of that, but if we had to pick, we would never play against each other.”

The game and growth

During the first half of the Cabrini-Arcadia game, the Cavaliers trailed, but found their rhythm later in the second half. In the start of the second the Cavs started to catch up but could not keep their pace as Arcadia led another run, ending the game 74-65. Cabrini lost, but Coach Ryan saw it as a win. He said these early games are all about growth, understanding that Cabrini’s roster is completely new, and Arcadia is a little bit more developed. He even saw this game as an improvement from the prior game when the Cavs played Elizabethtown. “We got a lot of new guys who are extremely young, and all our returners are all in new spots, and we’re going to go through some growing pains,” Ryan said. 

Jaden Dickerson, a junior guard, said he also believes the team improved overall from the last game, and although the offense was “stagnant” during the beginning of the first, his team showed a great hustle against a great team. Dickerson said the team learned to play well together, moving the ball around and taking advantage of shot opportunities, keeping that passing “philosophy” throughout the second.  

After thoughts

Was the game just another notch under Adam’s belt against his brother? Does Ryan want to get back at him? 

Ryan said he could see how this game could be seen in that kind of light, but the reality is far from that perspective, and believes Adam feels the same way. He said this game, or any game for that matter, isn’t about him and who he’s coaching against, even if it’s his twin. He said it’s about the Cavaliers, the team, the players, the reason why he’s coaching at Cabrini in the first place.  

Ryan Van Zelst coaching on the sideline. Photo by Seamus Feeley.

“I love coming to work here every day, and I’ve only been here for a couple months, and obviously people have come and gone, and the school is a little different with the numbers, et cetera, et cetera, but this is a special place,” Ryan said. 

Despite the short time he has left here, and how emotional that can be with his commitment to the Cavs, he plans to do his best, and so does the team. 

Ryan said, “Would I be lying, if I said I wasn’t sad because I wasn’t in a position to build something really special here, and trying to get back to the national level? Yeah, but at the end of the day we’re going to make the most out of a tough situation. Something positive always comes out, whether you realize it in the moment or not.” 

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Seamus Feeley

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