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Sunday, May 22, 2022

‘If you have heart you can do it’: Twin Gator basketball stars rise at UF

Tatyana and Taliyah Wyche’s family gifted the sisters their drive on and off the court

<p>Tatyana Wyche protects the ball from a swarm of Ole Miss players looking to snatch it out of her hands.</p>

Tatyana Wyche protects the ball from a swarm of Ole Miss players looking to snatch it out of her hands.

A flurry of Gators women’s basketball players lined up for their final preparations just 30 minutes before facing Ole Miss, a familiar SEC foe. The UF team donned royal blue warmup shirts as the clock ticked down to tip-off Jan. 6.

Single file, each player dashed to the basket before outstretching their hands to guide in a smooth layup.

At first, Florida’s pregame routine looked unremarkable to the sparse crowd of college basketball fanatics at the O’Connell Center. 

It’s when 18-year-old freshmen forwards Tatyana and Taliyah Wyche sprinted and elevated to rattle the rim that passing fans took a collective gasp.

The Wyche twins always enjoyed tremendous athletic gifts — it’s hard to bluff your way into four consecutive high school state titles. But while most twins take on the world in pairs, this dynamic duo battles with a third presence by their side: their stepmother. 

When the twins were eight-years-old, Joanna Wyche worked at the same elementary school as their father, Bennet Wyche, while they attended the neighboring school. One day, Bennet introduced her to the twins as his friend. The three strangers took a liking to one another instantly.

“They would come to my classroom and try on my shoes,” Joanna said. “Eight-year-old girls just walking around the classroom with my six-inch heels. It was just super cute.”

In that moment, they clicked into an instant closeness, she said. When she married the twins' father, the term stepmom didn’t define the kind of relationship the trio fostered.

“I don't look at them as my stepdaughters and they don't look to me as their stepmom,” Joanna said. “Those are my daughters.”

As a team, Joanna and Bennet helped their daughters the best way they knew how. While she helped the twins get ahead in the classroom, Bennet instilled his daughters with pride on the basketball court. 

“She really helped us academically,” Taliyah said. “She was a middle school teacher, and we were in third grade doing middle school work.”

The twins’ father played basketball recreationally but utilized his playing experience to help them follow their dreams on the hardwood.

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“If we didn't do the little things like box out or play defense, my dad would always say it’s about heart,” Taliyah said. “If you have heart you can do it.”

Heart played a major role in the Wyche sisters’ dominance at the high school level.

American Heritage High School Head Coach Greg Farias fell in love with the twins as soon as he saw them taking a tour of the school in Plantation, Florida. Taliyah stood at a towering 6’1 and Tatyana measured in at 6’2. He saw the raw potential hidden underneath the surface.

Farias witnessed the untapped athletic ability of Tatyana and Taliyah firsthand. They were rim-running machines, but their tremendous success did not stop them from working on the fundamentals.

“They started developing inside moves that were amazing,” Farias said. “Their junior year they both developed a mid-range shot.”

Under the guidance of Farias, the twins grew into unrivaled conquerors of the painted area around the South Florida circuit. Tatyana averaged 15 points and 17 rebounds per game, and Taliyah compiled almost identical numbers with 15 points and 11.3 rebounds.

Coaching the Wyche sisters was a pleasure for Farias, not because of their stellar performance on the court, but their character off it.

“I was hard on them, but at the same time I always loved them and that never changed,” Farias said. “They were loyal and they love me to death.”

When the twins decided where to continue their basketball and academic careers, UF was the obvious choice.

Current interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley attracted the twins to the school. Finley routinely called the twins for life updates and emotional check-ins, developing a bond that made the choice to stay instate an easy one.

“She was always so honest,” Tatyana said. “We had conversations that went further than basketball.”

Tatyana and Tailyah signed on to pursue their basketball careers and criminology degrees at UF November 2020.

Junior and fellow forward Faith Dut embraced the South Florida sisters. The lanky, transition-minded Canadian has been an excellent model for Taliyah and Tatyana on-and-off the court.

Following their arrival at UF, Dut made sure the girls were keeping up with their conditioning. The junior went out of her way to be there for the freshmen in their transition into Division I basketball.

The Wyche sisters continue to mature as Florida looks poised to make a legitimate run in the SEC tournament this March. After dropping the first two games of conference play against Georgia and Ole Miss, the Gators have generated momentum with a four-game winning streak. 

But the twins are not looking ahead that far just yet. They are taking each contest one at a time, focusing on the task ahead and putting heart in everything they do.

“I always want to focus on what’s next,” Taliyah said. “After we take care of that, then we can move on to the next thing.”

As her daughters blossom on the basketball court, Joanna looks forward to seeing her girls graduate and accomplish their goals on the court and in the classroom.

Contact Brenda Bogle at Follow her on Twitter @bogle_brenda.

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Brenda Bogle

Brenda Bogle is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in sports and media. She joined The Alligator in the Fall of 2021.

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