University of Kansas

Morrises aren't the first twins who have been split by NBA

LAWRENCE — One of the more telling moments from the Morris twins' three years at Kansas happened in March during the first half of a NCAA Tournament game against Illinois.

The game was tight, and neither team had found its footing. The ball ended up in the hands of Marcus Morris, the Big 12 player of the year, who was in good position to score near the block. But instead of putting up a shot he'd made hundreds of times, Marcus decided to use the backboard to ricochet a pass to his brother, Markieff, who was standing on the other side of the rim.

This did not end well, with the Fighting Illini taking possession and KU coach Bill Self hemorrhaging on the sideline.

"What are you doing?" Self yelled at Marcus during an ensuing timeout.

Simple. He was being a Morris twin. The move was unorthodox only if you didn't know Marcus and Markieff, who are always thinking about the other. More often than not, that unselfishness has worked out for them, and on that day, it did not end up hurting the Jayhawks, who pulled away from Illinois mostly thanks to the dominance of the twins.

After the season ended, a thought emerged: Their antics may be over. The Jayhawks' loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Elite Eight very well could be the last time Marcus and Markieff Morris play on the same team. And, in the months since, as the twins have pursued their NBA dream, Marcus has come up with a stock response to questions of their impending separation: "It's not the end of the world," he'll say.

No, it is not the end of the world. But it is the end of their world, the special universe where Marcus and Markieff live in the same apartment, take the same classes, drive the same car and share what seems like the same brain.

In their new world, the one in which the rest of us inhabit, Markieff will live in Phoenix and play for the Suns, who drafted him 13th overall on Thursday, and Marcus will live nearly 1,200 miles east in Houston and play for the Rockets, who took him with the 14th pick.

The Morris twins are trying not to think too deeply about this. What choice do they have? Luckily for them, they aren't the first set of NBA-bound twins to be separated, and there's a man conveniently placed right there in Phoenix who says he is there to help.

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Dick and Tom Van Arsdale are the NBA's first and best twin tandem. But, before they each became three-time All-Stars, they were young men who knew nothing but life with the other one by his side. They were, despite growing up in small-town Indiana, just like today's Morris twins of Philadelphia.

The Van Arsdale twins always played on the same basketball teams and never spent any time apart that wasn't highly begrudged. Their parents dressed them the same, and they attended the same college, Indiana. After leaving Bloomington, Dick and Tom, actually wanted to be drafted by different NBA teams — but only because as similar 6-foot-5 players, they didn't want to compete for the same minutes.

On draft day in 1965, they got their wish. Dick was drafted by the New York Knicks with the 10th pick in the second round, and Tom was taken by the Detroit Pistons with the next pick.

"I had no clue how difficult it was going to be," Tom Van Arsdale says.

After about a month of living separated lives, Tom was miserable — so much so that he left Pistons training camp in the middle of the night with the intention of never coming back.

"I was unhappy because I was away from Dick," Tom says. "I was having a semi-nervous breakdown."

Van Arsdale drove back to Indiana that night, and soon got admitted to Indiana's law school. That didn't put him any closer to Dick, who was handling the separation better because he had a girlfriend, but it at least put him back in a comfortable place and near memories of he and his brother.

"It was just loneliness," Tom says. "It would probably be like a husband and wife who lived together 50 years. We did everything together. They tried to put us in different classes, but we wouldn't let them do it. We refused to be split up."

Eventually, Dick convinced Tom that he had to go back to Detroit and pursue their shared dream. Tom had to try to adjust. The Pistons told him they'd take him back, but he couldn't do anything like that again.

Tom would make the most of his second run with Detroit, and over time he made some great friends with the Pistons. He ended up playing 12 years in the league, two of them with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings, and averaged 15.3 points per game for his career. In 1968, Dick had become the "Original Sun" as the first pick for the expansion Phoenix Suns. He finished his career in Phoenix, averaging 16.4 points per game. In 1976, the Suns signed Tom Van Arsdale, and the twins played their final season in the NBA on the same team.

"It was one of the most fun years we had," Tom says. "We roomed together on the road. We'd go to dinner together. We were 35-year-old kids."

Today, the Van Arsdale twins both live in Phoenix, where they share an office at the family's real estate company. When Tom Van Arsdale hears about other sets of twins playing basketball, his ears always perk up. He's rooting for Marcus and Markieff Morris, who, from the sound of it, have the same kind of special relationship that he and Dick have.

"Tell the Morrises, if they have problems, they should call me," Tom says. "Back then, they didn't have psychologists or psychiatrists. I should have had one. I was almost clinically depressed, and I didn't have anyone to help me. I would tell them to be very cautious."

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Of course, it doesn't have to be that complicated. Twins Jason and Jarron Collins played college ball at Stanford before being drafted by the New Jersey Nets and the Utah Jazz, respectively, and neither of them had much separation anxiety.

Jason Collins says their parents encouraged them to be individuals, which made the process easier.

"We have the best jobs in the world," says Jason, who played for the Atlanta Hawks last season but is now a free agent. "I love to play basketball, and we get paid very well to play basketball. You have to try to look at it as an opportunity. The Morris twins are going to have some great stories, and it's going to be a lot of fun."

The Collins twins live about 10 minutes apart in Los Angeles during the offseason, which has helped them plenty. Marcus Morris says he and Markieff plan to share a house in the offseason as well. Plus, with Skype and the abilities of smart phones, they'll have plenty of ways to communicate that Dick and Tom Van Arsdale couldn't have fathomed in 1965.

"It definitely will be weird not playing with him," Marcus says, "but these are things you really can't control. We're just going to make the best out of it and see if we can get together on down the road."

Those who are close to the Morris twins — their mother, Angel; Self; and their high school coach, Dan Brinkley — believe it will be good for Marcus and Markieff to be apart.

"For the first time," Brinkley says, "they're going to get a chance to just focus on themselves individually. They care so much about the other and are always worried about each other. They're going to learn things about themselves."

Brinkley remembers meeting the twins when they were in middle school. They looked exactly the same, but they've always had distinct personalities. Marcus is the dominant twin, with a more out-in-front personality. He makes most of the decisions. Markieff is more laid-back, but he's known as the funnier of the two.

One thing they share is their love of basketball and of turning their teams into mini-families. Brinkley sees that as the easiest way for the twins to adjust to their brave new world.

"The main thing is that both of them are really competitive," Brinkley says. "So, initially, it will be them getting an opportunity to get to know their new teammates. Every team they play on they look at as family. I think they'll focus more on the positive than the negative."

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