October 5, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 44°F


Serving up brotherly love

The final tally of wins was 535 games to 510 games. From middle school to high school, a pingpong table served as the battleground for a competitive after-school ritual between brothers Dan and Justin Levine.

Shawn Steiner/The IthacanFrom left, freshman Justin Levine and senior Dan Levine bump shoulders with each other Friday on the Wheeler Tennis Courts. The two have a combined record of 3—7 in doubles play.

“The first time we started playing, it was fun,” Dan said with a chuckle. “Then it started becoming a competitive battle – whoever lost that day would be mad for an hour.”

Each game was an aggressive stretch of the table tennis rules, and an estimated 14 pingpong paddles were broken during their games. Dan and Justin’s father, Eric Levine, said the games were a way for his sons to channel their competitive energy.

“My wife and I would be sitting upstairs saying, ‘I thought pingpong was a non-contact sport’,” Eric said.

The Levine brothers have moved from their days playing table tennis in their basement to competing on the men’s tennis team. Dan is captaining the squad in his senior season, while Justin is just breaking into the lineup as a freshman. But tennis was the last thing on Dan and Justin Levine’s minds during their childhood, as they grew up shooting a ball through a net rather than over it.

“I never even watched tennis until seventh grade,” Dan said. “Both of our passions definitely were basketball growing up.”

Eric coached Dan and Justin when they played as point guards in the Christian Youth Organization in their hometown of Highland Mills, N.Y., and for Monroe-Woodbury High School in Woodbury, N.Y. Both of their CYO teams lost in the playoffs, with Justin’s team making it to the semifinals.

But as their statures began to stall — Justin stands at 5-foot-9, and Dan is one inch shorter — the prospect of playing college basketball at a Division I institution
began to fade away.

Dan said his decision to switch to tennis was not only fueled by a willingness to compete at sports, but also for pure enjoyment.

“I figured, ‘Why not something that doesn’t involve height?’” he said. “I mean it does at points, but I was like, ‘Why not tennis?’ And it was fun.”

When Dan was 14 years old and Justin was 11 years old, the brothers began to take casual tennis lessons with tennis coach Tim Warren during a summer trip to the outer banks of North Carolina. Soon enough, they were working with personal tennis coach Ari Roberts ’02.

Roberts said the brothers’ athleticism helped them make a seamless transition to tennis.

“They both had a natural ability for the game,” Roberts said. “They both picked it up really quickly.”

Four years after their first lesson with Roberts, Dan and Justin won the 2008
Orange County Championship as doubles partners and placed sixth in the New York State Tournament a few months later.

After Dan enrolled at the college to play on the men’s tennis team, Justin followed three years later. Though attending school with his brother was a factor, it was not the ultimate influence in Justin’s decision on where he would attend college.

“I liked the team atmosphere of guys liking each other and hanging out,” Justin said. “I was a big fan of the coach, and the campus is really nice. The A&E Center was also a big pull for me because I didn’t like hitting outside.”

Justin still exercised his passion for basketball by serving as the manager for the men’s basketball team for part of last season. He performed day-to-day tasks such as working the scoreboard in practice and helping fill the water coolers.

Justin is using his involvement to strive for his ultimate goal — becoming the head coach for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The intense atmosphere at the school’s games attracts him to pursue this dream.

“It’s such a great game with the crowd and everything,” Justin said. “When you watch college basketball, there’s nothing better than it.”

Dan’s enthusiasm for basketball spills over into his career aspirations as well. His dream job is either working in the front office for the New York Knicks or being a referee in the NBA.

Dan said his competitive nature with his brother was essential in developing their motivation to pursue athletics.

“I don’t know if I could have grown up through my younger years without him,” he said. “He was basically my best friend.”

Eric said his sons have used tennis as a tool to expand their loyalty to each other.

“As brothers, you’re always competing,” he said. “They’ve learned how to put it aside and they are each other’s number one fan, which is really cool.”

Justin has developed a tight-knit and trusting bond with Dan on the court.

“We just know our personalities so well that just before a big match, it’s just like, ‘Go get it’,” he said. “I know I have to bring it
because he’s going to bring it.”

The fraternal connection Dan shares with Justin translates into success on the tennis court.

“We know where each other is going be and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Dan said. “I know if I see him running on a full run forehand, he’s going to hit this angle winner, or he’s going to hit this shot and dip it.”

Though the two are not currently doubles partners with the Bombers, Dan and Justin played together in a match against Colby College on Oct. 10 and in the Middlebury Invitational Sept. 17-18 in Middlebury, Vt. Head Coach Bill Austin said there is a chance that Dan and Justin will be one of the South Hill squad’s featured doubles pairs this spring.

Austin said Dan and Justin’s impact on the Bombers has been an essential spark to the team in the fall and spring seasons.

“They love to get out there on the tennis court and fire it up, whether it’s with their teammates or matches with other teams,” Austin said. “They get in there and want to do the best they can.”