University of Kansas

Twins' growth is surprising to watch

A window into why the development of Kansas basketball's Morris twins was the best story of 2009 in KU sports:

When I first met Marcus and Markieff Morris, it was late May 2008 and they were showing me around their native Philadelphia with their mother, Angel. Honestly, I couldn't take my eyes off the 6-foot-8 Marcus and 6-foot-9 Markieff. I was struck by their obvious connection to one another — many twins share an intense connection, but it was immediately clear that Marcus and Markieff could not function without the other.

They lived in their own world with their own language, not revealing much to an outsider. Conversations with them were a struggle, but you could easily glean this: The twins considered themselves the two best ballers in Philly, and yet they didn't have much of a clue about what would be expected of them in college. They often talked about their three-point shooting but rarely about defense and rebounding.

Angel would be moving to Lawrence with them, and I wasn't sure whether that would hurt or help their assimilation. The three had shared an unbreakable bond — would they let anybody else in?

A disappointing start didn't help their cause. Within a few months of being on campus, the twins took a hit to their reputation when Markieff was accused of firing an airsoft BB gun from his dorm room window and hitting a woman. Then, on the court, KU fans revolted against their lack of energy and inconsistency during the first half of the season. Certainly, there was a lack of understanding from all sides.

But something clicked with the twins in January. They got their legs under them, and they were the best players on the floor during a win at Baylor. The rest of the year, they were passable big men, and they began to open themselves up to the outside world a little bit. It turned out that Marcus was one of the funnier players on the team.

We first learned this during the NCAA Tournament, when the team had just watched a mandatory video on sports gambling. Marcus had never thought about the millions of dollars riding on his performance.

"I think about it now," he said, "how many people are losing money."

Marcus paused.

"If they're betting money on how many points I'm gonna score," he said, "they're losing a lot of money."

We all busted out laughing. It was the perfect thing to say, with the right amount of self-deprecation and self-awareness; Marcus knew how fans perceived him at that point.

After their freshman year ended, the Morris twins went into the summer with the goal of getting stronger and putting on weight. They knew that they weren't athletic enough during the 2008-09 season and both edged to the 230-pound range. Sure enough, in the second exhibition game, Marcus threw down a vicious one-handed dunk in transition. My reaction was that Marcus would have probably pulled up for a midrange jumper instead of dunking last season. Marcus agreed in his usual frank fashion.

"I don't even know," he said. "I probably would have pulled up right there where I caught it and tried to shoot it off the glass and hopefully make it."

That's the type of honesty we've come to expect from a Morris. Markieff, while less talkative than Marcus, usually has a good back story attached to each night's performance. More often than not this season, the stories have been positive. Marcus and Markieff are playing as well or better than KU center Cole Aldrich, averaging a combined 19.3 points and 11.7 rebounds.

It is standard for the Morris twins' statistics to be combined, but as another year in KU sports has passed, they have begun to establish themselves as individuals. Still, their improvement in tandem is one of the main reasons to think 2010 could be a special year for the Jayhawks — of course, the twins have to make it there first.

On their way back from their Christmas trip to Philly on Saturday, Marcus and Markieff's flight from Chicago to Kansas City were canceled. It became apparent that the twins would have to sleep at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, but they were too tall for the cots that were provided.

"We put our money together and got a hotel," Marcus said.

This time last year, who knows what would have happened to them? In a year stocked full of memorable lessons, the twins took one more away for the future:

"This is my advice: Never go to Chicago in the winter time," Marcus said. "You might not make it out."