Delete - Merge LAWRENCE — While visiting with his staff one day, Bill Self picked up the phone and heard the voice of a faraway stranger.
“Would you be interested in the Morris twins?” the caller asked.
Self muffled the phone and turned to his assistants.
“Who are the Morris twins?”
Fortunately for everybody connected with the proud Kansas basketball program, Self’s staff knew quite a lot about the brawny brothers from Philadelphia. One stood 6-8, the other 6-9. They had led Prep Charter High School to back-to-back Pennsylvania state titles in 2006 and ’07.
Quickly, they filled their boss in.
“Yes, I would definitely be interested in the Morris twins!” Self told Dan Brinkley, their high school coach.
From such fortuitous encounters, outstanding teams are built. Now three years later, just about everybody with even a casual interest in college basketball knows about this extraordinary set of brothers from the City of Brotherly Love.
Marcus, at 6-8, is an inch shorter and seven minutes younger than Markieff.
They’re nearly inseparable and they’re almost identical. Both are heavily tattooed with the exact — the absolutely exact — body art. They’re also sometimes controversial.
They are the scoring, rebounding and team leaders of a Kansas squad ranked third in the nation with an overall record of 26-2.
“They just do so much, those two,” coach Homer Drew said after Markieff had 12 points and 13 rebounds and Marcus had 22 and 11 against Valparaiso. “They’re mobile, so they’re hard to guard. They can shoot from outside, they can power you inside. And when one shoots, what scares you is the other one dunks if he misses.”
Like many other sets of twins, Marcus and Markieff sometimes exhibit an uncanny feel for what the other is thinking and feeling. While they were growing up, this came in handy whenever Angel Morris caught one of her active sons doing something he shouldn’t.
“We always had this weird communication between us,” said Markieff, or “Kief,” as he’s known to friends and family. “One of us would get in trouble and make up a story. The other would just sort of know what to say when he was asked about it. We wouldn’t have to tell each other what to say.”
“Most likely,” said Marcus, “I’m going to give the same exact story he gave, even if it’s a made-up story.”
Sometimes this same intuitive feel also works on the court.
“We always have had that sense,” said Marcus. “That’s why we play so well together. He knows my game and I know his game. When I make moves, he knows where to be at, when I need to get him the ball and vice versa.”
It’s a feel for one another Markieff has always sensed.
“We’ve been playing together as long as we’ve played basketball,” he said. “So we have a great sense of where each other’s going to be, what each other’s going to do, what kind of shot he’s going to take.”
In their case, this could be just about any kind of shot in the game. Both brothers are able to pop in 3-pointers better than most men their size. Marcus, averaging a team-best 17.1 points, has hit 22 of 62 from beyond the arc. Markieff, averaging 13.4 points and a Big 12-leading 8.4 rebounds, is 19 for 46 from behind the line.
Plus, they are the best passers on the team.
“When your two best passers are your two biggest guys, that makes the offense sometimes look pretty good and run pretty smooth,” said Self.
When 6-9 Thomas Robinson comes off the bench to create their “big lineup,” Marcus floats to the perimeter, where men his size don’t normally roam.
“He can do more things than anybody I ever coached, hands down,” said Self. “At his height, 6-8, he can post, score over each shoulder, catch and drive, handle it on the perimeter, pass. He has great vision. He shoots 3s off the catch. He can do a little bit of everything. He’s not a guy who’s going to get you 20 and 10 every night. But he’s a guy who can do anything.”
Marcus’ .603 shooting percentage is a shade better than Markieff’s .600. Among the starters, they have the best shooting percentage on the team that leads the nation with a 52.4 accuracy rate.
The reason Self didn’t know about them out of high school is they committed early to Memphis and the Jayhawks didn’t have them on their list of prospects. But poor study habits as freshmen and sophomores kept them from qualifying academically. So they enrolled in APEX Academy in Pennsauken, N.J., for a year.
“But don’t think they aren’t smart,” Self said. “They’re both on pace to graduate. And they both have an amazing intuitive grasp of the game.”
They’ve both also been known to do what Self describes as “goofy things.” Their competitive fire has caused them to draw intentional fouls during games for things like hitting other players above the shoulders.
“The main thing about us is, by any means we want to win. On or off the court,” said Markieff.
In that regard, looking almost exactly alike and always being together may work to their disadvantage.
“They know that because of some past actions that people are looking for them, watching them,” said Self. “Officials are human. The other thing is when you talk to an official, they never say one or the other. They always say, ‘The twins,’ so when one screws up, it’s ‘the twins.’ They’re both tagged with that.”
There was never any question they would stay together. Remarkably close, they’ve only been separated from one another for more than a few days a handful of times.
It’s this strong family bond that compels Marcus to sign off all his tweets with “F.O.E.”
“It means family over everything,” he said. “That’s what we believe in.”