Last summer, as Marcus Morris traveled the country for weeks showcasing his skills, Markieff Morris didn't have to say that he missed his twin brother. It was written all over his face.
When the Kansas Jayhawks walked into their locker room each day for workouts, there would be Markieff, staring into the palm of his hand where an iPhone streamed a video of Marcus, live from the Amare Stoudemire big man camp in Chicago, or the LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, or the USA Basketball national team training camp in Las Vegas.
For the Morris twins, who share a visage and a brain, the phone should have functioned as a mirror on those days when they were apart. But the backgrounds facing each of them couldn't have been more different.
While Marcus saw their shared existence in Lawrence, Markieff had to peer into a world that that he couldn't truly know: NBA stars showing the ins and outs of their craft. Scouts on hand ready to report back to front offices that could punch a ticket to the big time.
It was hard enough for Markieff simply being away from Marcus in the first place. But missing out on all of that, too?
"It was miserable for him," said Mario Little, a close friend and KU teammate. The fact that Marcus' career took off before Markieff's is not surprising to anyone who knows their dynamic. Marcus is the ringleader and has been from the beginning. He makes all of the big decisions and all of the little ones, and the ultra-laid back Markieff is just fine with the arrangement.
Markieff beating Marcus out of their mother's womb by seven minutes should be considered one of the great upsets of all time, because Marcus has been taking the first steps ever since.
"I'll procrastinate," Markieff says. "He's always telling me to come on. I'll sleep through anything, and he'll be the one to wake me up."
It's not that Markieff has been procrastinating as a Kansas basketball player. He played behind Cole Aldrich for two seasons and therefore hasn't had the opportunities that Marcus has had. Still, Marcus' assertiveness began to show on the floor last season — he averaged 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds — which helped to separate him from Markieff in the eyes of the basketball world.
At least for now.
Because there's no question that, for the Jayhawks to get where they want to go this season, they will need Markieff to catch up.
Until the summer of 2010, Marcus and Markieff Morris could count the times that they were separated from each other on one hand.
The first time came near the end of their senior year at Prep Charter High in Philadelphia, when Markieff couldn't go on the class trip to Virginia Beach, Va. The twins' mother, Angel, had taken the trip away from Markieff as punishment for some sub-par academics. Indirectly, she was punishing Marcus, too, because he didn't want to go without his brother. Marcus asked Markieff if he should go.
"I want you to, go for the both of us," Markieff told him.
With Markieff's blessing, Marcus ended up hitting the beach for a few days. But his heart was back in Philly.
"Every day I'd call him, send him pictures, show him how it is," Marcus says.
They wouldn't be apart again until the summer of 2009, when more schoolwork kept Markieff in Lawrence while Marcus helped out at Mario Chalmers' basketball camp in Salina. They were only apart for the day, but in twin time, it registered enough to be mentioned a year later.
The inseparability of twins is not a unique idea, but the Morris twins' bond still feels unique. They are not remotely independent, and they don't want to be.
"I'm not ready to let go of us being together yet," Markieff says.
Marcus and Markieff are still basically one person. In social settings, they feel naked without the other one. Most of their memories and experiences revolve around the other, so it's easy to lose their compass when the other isn't present.
Ask Marcus what his first memory is, and he'll say seeing Markieff when they were 3 or 4 and realizing that there were two of him. Ask Markieff, and he'll say seeing Marcus cry after getting his finger caught in the door when they were 5.
"I knew he would say that," Marcus says.
Warning: Marcus' next Markieff memory is possibly exaggerated for effect.
"When he first started sucking his two fingers," Marcus says. "He sucked them every day up until he was about 10 years old. No one knows that he sucked his fingers. I got him out of it."
And again, even in this silly Morris yarn, there is Marcus taking the lead. That is the one discernible quality between the two, although apparently Marcus likes yams but doesn't like fish, while Markieff dislikes yams but likes fish.
Marcus says that he is more like their mother, who has got enough spunk to raise the two of them while working long hours as a nurse, and that Markieff is more like their father, who is not involved in their life but has a laid-back personality.
Marcus is laid back compared to the average human but not Markieff. The twins have spent the last few years tattooing most of their upper bodies, and they always get the same ones. Marcus simply tells Markieff what art he's going to have on his body for the rest of his life, and Markieff says OK.
"If it's something I'm deciding for the both of us, he never argues," Marcus says. "He might say, ‘I like this one,' and I'll say, ‘No, this one's better.'æ"
When Marcus and Markieff were being recruited by colleges, Marcus would take all of the calls from coaches and reporters.
"I feel like Marcus is the more responsible person, handling business," Little says. "Marcus drives everywhere. Marcus is the one that speaks up for both of them all the time."
Marcus appreciates Markieff's unwavering trust, but, similar to a weary wife, he'd like to come home one day and see the vanilla candles lit and the dishes done.
"Sometimes, I wish he'd make more decisions," Marcus says. "I always have to do everything first. As far as cleaning up, going to the store, buying something for the room, he won't say anything until I say something."
Marcus' subconscious feels the pressure, too. He had a dream one night that the world's biggest dog was in their Jayhawker Towers apartment. The dog, which could talk, was threatening to eat them.
"Markieff wouldn't feed him," Marcus says. "I came home, and the dog was about to eat us both because we didn't feed him."
Luckily, Dream Marcus knew what to do just like Real-life Marcus would.
"We were feeding him cereal and cat food and tuna fish," Markieff says, "anything we could get our hands on."
The Morris twins make it through each day under Marcus' direction, but the Jayhawks will need them both to make their return to the Final Four in Houston.
After the twins, Kansas has only unproven sophomores Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey and Little, who is a 6-foot-5 small forward that can play the No. 4 spot.
Marcus is undoubtedly headed for a big season. He was picked as a preseason All-Big 12 selection, and his picture made one of the covers of USA Today's college basketball preview. Last summer, when he took on members of the U.S. national team as a part of the younger U.S. select team, he came back with the knowledge that he can compete with the best.
At Kansas, Marcus had mostly proven it already, becoming the most consistent performer on a team with lottery picks Aldrich and Xavier Henry and heart-and-soul point guard Sherron Collins. Marcus' summer jetsetting experience only served to confirm it.
Markieff is still waiting for his confirmation, but with Aldrich out of the picture, there's a belief around the program that it's coming soon.
"The difference in Marcus playing more for us is that we had Cole," KU coach Bill Self says, "and Marcus helped Cole be better, probably more so than what 'Kieff could have. Our deal was how do we make Sherron and Cole look the best. But from a talent standpoint, I think they're pretty comparable."
Marcus complemented Aldrich because of his versatility, which often took inside defenders away from the basket. Of the two, Markieff plays more like a traditional big man, and his average of 5.3 rebounds in 17.6 minutes bears that out.
Self expects Markieff to join Marcus in averaging at least 30 minutes this season, and nobody is more excited about that possibility than Marcus. It was never his intention to pass his older brother.
"It's unbelievable how unselfish they are towards each other," Self says.
Just like when Marcus went to Virginia Beach without Markieff, Marcus says that he was representing both of them during his summer travels. Markieff says that he is happy for Marcus but that their temporary separation also served as motivation.
Without Marcus around, it was up to Markieff to make decisions. So, before and after those iPhone sessions, he'd decide to put up hundreds of jump shots.
"Markieff wants to be a pro," Little says. "The big fella (Aldrich) isn't here anymore. It's his time to show the world what he can do."