LAWRENCE — Angel Morris loves this town. It's quiet, more laid-back than what she's used to. There's less traffic, no crazy cab drivers leaning on their horns. Oh, and she can't leave out Allen Fieldhouse. That place is unlike anything else.
"But the best experience was my basketball family," Morris says. "I love my basketball family."
For three years, Morris was Kansas' Team Mom, the tall woman with the Bluetooth device in her ear who kept her tall twin boys and their friends in line. She came here from her lifelong home of Philadelphia to make sure that Marcus and Markieff stayed focused on accomplishing their dream, and it all worked out according to plan. The Morris twins are both possible lottery picks in the June NBA Draft.
What were the odds on Sept. 2, 1989, that the twin boys born to the young woman in North Philly were each going to be millionaires? Angel doesn't want to reflect just yet. Their names haven't been called, and she does not want to play the odds. Things can always happen.
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Right now, Marcus and Markieff are in Tampa, Fla., working out, pushing forward toward the goal. Angel could be packing her bags in her two-bedroom apartment off 6th Street, preparing to live the high life her boys want to provide to her, but, surprisingly, she doesn't plan on going anywhere for a while.
"As a parent, I've always wished that they did this for themselves as much as me," Angel says. "This will take care of them and their family. They say they did it for me, but I'm happy because they did it for themselves."
Angel isn't sticking around Lawrence simply because she loves the low-key lifestyle. There's something more important at play, a promise made years ago by one mother to another that has to be fulfilled.
Today, on Mother's Day, Marcus and Markieff will not be here, but Angel won't spend the day alone. She has a new son now. He's a broken-hearted kid from Washington, D.C., and, after a year filled with tragedy, he is her responsibility.
* * *
Angel Morris was the mother of a 6-year-old boy, Blake, and she was done having kids. One was enough for a single mother who was trying to make her way in a big city without a college degree.
Then a doctor told her that she was pregnant with twins. Two more? What was this, some kind of joke?
"She didn't go into a state of depression, but she really did get upset," says Shirley Morris, Angel's mother. "She was really, really angry. 'What am I gonna do with two babies?' It took her a long time to get happy with that one, because they were a handful. Believe me, they were a handful."
Angel tried to look at the situation logically.
"You do what you have to do in life," Angel says. "What else could I do with them? I had to raise them. I wasn't going to give them away."
She wouldn't have to raise them alone. Shirley was "ecstatic" about the arrival of Marcus and Markieff, and so was Angel's father, Thomas. Her parents took care of the three boys while Angel worked, an arrangement that continued for years.
It was that stability that gave Angel a picture of how to be a parent to begin with.
"I think it's how you're taught," Angel says. "My parents never drank around us, cussed around us, smoked around us. They were just good parents."
But Angel wouldn't have the help of her boys' fathers. Still, Shirley noticed as the twins grew up that she was doing just fine. Each day when Angel would get home from her job at Temple University Hospital, she'd ask them what happened at school that day, and, to Shirley's surprise, the boys would tell her the truth, even when they'd gotten in trouble. Yes, her daughter was doing something right, because it was clear Marcus and Markieff did not want to disappoint their mother.
"I was a real hard mom," Angel says. "When you are a single mom, you have to be more stern than you are when you're not. If there's a father figure, than the father can be stern and the mother can be in the kitchen cooking."
By herself, Angel had given her boys the stable upbringing she knew growing up and put a roof over their heads. By high school, the twins were budding basketball stars. But, during their junior year, just as things were coming together, the family's home was gutted by a fire.
"She lost everything," Shirley says, "and I mean everything."
Still, Angel had her boys, and they would move in with her parents for the rest of high school. When time came for the twins to decide between KU and hometown Villanova, Angel didn't pressure them to stay in Philly. They wanted to be Jayhawks, but they weren't going to go anywhere without her.
"To move to Kansas with her children was something that every mother won't do," Shirley says. "They don't give up on their dream to follow their children's dream, and that's what my daughter did."
* * *
Angel Morris had been in Lawrence for a year when she met Lisa Robinson, the mother of Kansas forward Thomas Robinson. Lisa was from Washington, D.C., a single mother of three kids, so it was easy for them to connect right off the bat.
Thing was, Lisa was afraid of flying, so she was not going to make it out to Lawrence to see Thomas very often. She had heard so many good things from Thomas about the Morris twins, so she had a favor to ask of their mother.
"Right after he got here, she asked me 'Would you watch over my son?' " Angel says.
Well, of course Angel would. Already, when she wasn't working at her job at First Management, she was busy doing her part to make the Jayhawks the best-fed basketball team in the country.
"When 'Kieff and Mook (Marcus) would get something to eat, we'd all go," KU guard Tyshawn Taylor says. "We'd do that every Sunday. She'd text us, 'I'm cooking today. Make sure you come over and get a plate,' things like that. She treats all of us like we're her sons."
But it was obvious that she gave more attention to Robinson. Angel would keep Lisa updated on her son, and the two mothers spent time together when KU played at Temple and at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2010.
On Jan. 20, 2011, Angel talked with Lisa, who was struggling with the loss of her mother and father in the span of a month. A day later, Lisa died of an apparent heart attack.
"That was devastating," Angel says. "Heartbreaking. I don't really know all the words to say for that one."
Angel knew what she had to do. It was motherly instinct. She was part of a group that consoled Thomas that night, and she traveled with him and KU director of basketball operations Barry Hinson to Washington to help with the funeral arrangements. In March, on Thomas' 20th birthday, she brought a cake to his hotel room in Tulsa, Okla., where the Jayhawks were playing in the NCAA Tournament.
When the season was over, the Morris twins and Robinson had decisions to make about the draft. It was likely the twins would leave, and Robinson wanted to know what that meant for Angel. He told her that he'd like for her to stay around Lawrence as long as he's at KU.
"I think his own mother would want for me to do that," Angel says, "because before she passed away she asked me to do it, to make sure he does well in school and stays focused as a young man. That's what I'm gonna do."
Angel has guided Marcus and Markieff to the brink of the NBA, and now she will have to finish the job that Lisa started with Thomas. Already, Robinson has given Angel a challenge.
On Sunday, April 10, he called her and told her about an incident that occurred at "The Cave," a Lawrence night club. Robinson would eventually be cited for misdemeanor battery for allegedly striking and spitting on a club bouncer.
Angel isn't sure exactly what went on that night, but she reminded Robinson that he is in the limelight and has to watch what he does and what he says.
"A lot of people don't understand," Angel says, "but basketball players are just kids. That's basically what I said to him: You have to mature into a young man at some point."
Surely, there will be more of those conversations in the coming months. This offseason will be a tough one for Robinson, who will have fewer distractions from the pain he's feeling than during the season.
Today will be his first Mother's Day without Lisa. Robinson mentioned something to Angel about seafood, and she took the hint.
"I think we'll just get some seafood and hang out," Angel says. "We're both crab freaks. If they're fresh, I might get some crabs, maybe some shrimp, fish, then some kind of Alfredo."
Angel says she won't bring up Lisa today. She wants to lessen the weight on Thomas' shoulders, but she'll be there to listen if he feels the need to talk about it.
Back in Philly, Shirley Morris is elated about adding another grandson. To Shirley, her daughter's generosity is the greatest Mother's Day gift of all.
"I have watched Angel grow into a fantastic mother," Shirley says. "She has risen as high as any mother could go with her boys. I am very proud of her, and I am thankful that God has made her into that type of person."