Family and basketball have always been intertwined for Theresa Del Negro Ahearn.
Before she was born, her father, Vin Del Negro, played for Hall of Fame coach Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky.
While growing up, her brother, Vinny, starred at Suffield Academy in Connecticut, eventually earning a basketball scholarship to North Carolina State University. A 12-year NBA playing career followed, along with head coaching stints for the Chicago Bulls (2008-10) and Los Angeles Clippers (2010-13).
So, when Del Negro Ahearn and her husband, Bob Ahearn, a former soccer goalie at the University of Massachusetts Boston, had four children, the three youngest almost naturally found their way onto the hardwood.
The lone exception was their oldest daughter, 21-year-old Ashley, who opted for volleyball and, this fall, as a senior, captained Bentley University’s team.
Consequently, Del Negro Ahearn estimates that she has attended approximately 1,100 basketball games involving her three children — 19-year-old Bobby, 15-year-old Maggie, and 12-year-old Dylan — not to mention another 200 over her brother’s career.
“We’ve been so busy with Bobby and Maggie and now with Dylan,” she said, “with AAU and juggling all of their schedules and the traveling. It’s a lot.
‘He’s always pushed me and been a good role model.’
“We’re traveling every weekend. I think, last year, we figured out we traveled to 22 different states between all three kids . . . but we absolutely love it. There are days when we’re like: ‘What are we doing? Where did the weekend go?’ But what else would we be doing? It’s such a joy to be watching them doing something that they love.”
Oftentimes, a basketball game takes on the feeling of a family outing.
For instance, in December both Maggie and Bobby played games in front of not only their parents and siblings, but also their grandparents, Vin and Peg, who regularly attend games, and their uncle Vinny, who was visiting from Phoenix.
More than a few discussions, including those over holiday meals, focused on basketball. There were also visits to the local gym, where their uncle offered all three players some pointers.
“Basketball has always been a prominent piece of my life, from my father to my career to watching my nieces and nephews play in high school or college,” Vinny said. “I loved growing up around basketball, and now I try to lend a helping hand. As any uncle, I want them to do well and be taught in the right way.”
Bobby, who traveled to Los Angeles last year and, with his uncle’s help, worked out at the Clippers facility and met with team trainers and nutritionists to help him devise a strength and conditioning routine, was the first to become smitten with the family pastime.
“My dad, he bought an outdoor basketball court for the driveway,” recalled the senior at Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson, Conn. “Me and him would go outside and shoot.”
Eventually, their games of H-O-R-S-E segued into Marshfield recreational and travel league tryouts; Bobby’s dad coached him from fifth through eighth grades. As Ahearn grew — eventually reaching his current 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame with a 6-foot-10 wingspan — so did the competition.
Besides playing on various AAU teams, Ahearn left Marshfield High after one year to repeat his freshman year at Marianapolis. The extra season of high school ball provided him with the opportunity to further hone his game and, in turn, secure a Division I basketball scholarship at Binghamton University.
“Bobby has always been a big kid,” said Andrew Vitale, fourth-year coach at Marianapolis. “Over the four years, he’s really developed as to how to use his body and how to use his physical abilities to play at a high level.
“His offensive game away from the basket has improved immensely. He’s currently one of our top perimeter shooters . . . We love to run a lot of pick-and-pop stuff for him, so we can get him open shots.
“Defensively, he’s a guy who will take charges. He’s always been a player who could rebound.”
Ahearn is soft-spoken, selfless, tough-minded, always courteous, and possessing a tireless work ethic. Teammate Travis Descoteaux, a senior from Manchester, N.H., compares him to an undersized Kevin Love.
The Binghamton commit was averaging 9.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game through Wednesday for Marianapolis (11-10) and has the ability to spread the floor, bang with the bigs, rebound, and score in the paint.
Ahearn, who aspires to play professional basketball overseas, as his uncle did in Italy, following college, openly shares the lessons he has learned from his own development with his younger sister, Maggie, a promising 6-foot-2, 150-pound sophomore at Marshfield High.
“He’s always pushed me and been a good role model,” Maggie said of her brother. “In the driveway, he taught me a bunch of drills to do, and he’s helped me with my form shooting. He pushes me to be my best and never give up.”
Though still raw offensively, Maggie’s size, strength, quickness and astonishing athleticism — often displayed by her ability to outjump opponents and snatch rebounds with one hand — makes her a daunting defensive presence and a potentially dominant two-way player.
“Offensively, she needs to develop an outside shot,” said Rick Fredericks, now in his 15th season as Marshfield’s coach. “But she’s so quick going to the basket.
“She’s probably the most athletic post player I’ve ever had. She does stuff, rebounding wise, that other girls aren’t capable of doing. Plus, defensively, if we get beat off the dribble, she’s able to recover, or, if they screen, she’s excellent at hedging and getting back. Defensively, she’s very, very well developed.”
With averages of 14.1 points and 12.2 rebounds per game for Marshfield (14-7) as of midweek, Boston College, Providence College, and Northeastern University, among others, have already expressed interest.
Still, the determined and dedicated student-athlete with the same thoughtful and caring demeanor as her older brother — though with a tendency to joke a bit more, according to Bobby — talks of a career as an athletic trainer.
Until then, there are basketball games to be played, including looming Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and New England Preparatory School Athletic Council postseason matchups for both Marshfield and Marianapolis, undoubtedly with parents, siblings, grandparents, and uncles watching from the stands.
“It’s always about supporting the team,” Jackie Waite, a senior tricaptain for Marshfield, said of the Del Negro-Ahearn family. “It’s not always about the one individual person. I think that’s what’s so awesome.”Paul Lazdowski can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @plazdow.