CHICAGO - Since as far back as their brains will allow them to remember, Markieff and Marcus Morris have done everything - everything - together.
And since they started taking their basketball seriously, back in the ninth grade, their dream also has been the same - to play in the NBA.
Now, as the dream appears to be creeping closer to reality, it has become apparent to the both of them that it probably will be the first thing to tear them away from each other.
The identical twins are in Chicago at the NBA Draft Combine, where over the span of 3 days they will work out and interview for prospective teams in preparation for the June 23 draft.
Marcus, the 6-9 small forward who possesses the more outgoing personality of the two, is projected to go somewhere between the sixth and 13th pick, according to many mock drafts and some pro scouts. Markieff, the 6-10 power forward and older brother by 7 minutes, is slated to go a little later, with many mocks having him fall to 76ers at the 16th slot. Barring a minor miracle, the two will be going their separate ways to start their professional lives. Forget that they won consecutive PIAA Class AA state titles at Prep Charter, or that they starred for 3 years together at the University of Kansas. Not only will they be taking their basketball talents in different directions for the first time, but their life skills, too.
"It's definitely going to be different," said Markieff yesterday at a downtown Chicago hotel after he worked out with other big men at Chicago's Attack Athletics in front of NBA coaches, scouts and general managers. "I've played in every single game that I've ever had with him, so it's going to be really different. But I'm a man, I'm a grown man, and I can definitely get out on my own. This is something that I've looked forward to, something I've always lived with. If we could play together it would be a blessing, but we can both hold our own."
Markieff says those words and it appears more like he is trying to convince himself as much as he is the media surrounding him at the small table in a banquet room. It appears that though he knows it's inevitable, the reality of the separation is still far enough away that it has not sunk in yet.
Asked what it might be like to play against his brother, Marcus simply couldn't imagine it, because he said he has never done it. Never.
"I've never played against him," Marcus said. "If in practice we went up against each other, I would switch off. I know all his moves, know what he's thinking."
And if the looks don't confuse you as to who is who, the twins don't do anything to distinguish themselves from the other. They each have 14 tattoos, all the same and in the same places on their bodies, though none were allowed to go below their elbows, per Mom's rule. They go everywhere together, took all the same classes through college. They have lived two lives as one, reaping benefits whenever their alikeness could provide.
"We switched classes when we were younger because Keiff was better at math and I was better at reading so we switched and I did his math test and he did my reading test," said Marcus of a middle school prank. "You could switch up a lot. I could make him do the guard workout for me [today] if I had to and I could do his big man workout and you would never know."
Not many ever would have known that this was the path that the twins were eventually going to follow, not even their mother, Angel. "When they were young, they played football," she said recently from her North Philly home. "They didn't really like basketball and they started playing football in the eighth grade. Then they started to get bigger and people started talking to them about basketball. Then one day they came home and said they wanted to play basketball in high school. I was happy they were just doing something to keep them off the street and occupy their time while they weren't in school. And now look.
"This is all truly overwhelming. I'm one of those people who likes to wait till the end until I see it actually happen. I know with the draft coming up soon we're right there physically, but mentally I'm just hoping nothing goes wrong between now and then."
It would seem illogical.
Marcus is the do-everything type of player who was named the Big 12 player of the year this past season and led Kansas in scoring over his three seasons there. At 6-9, he can play a post game but is more comfortable facing the basket. He averaged a team-high 17.2 points this season and grabbed 7.6 rebounds. He also improved his outside shooting range enough to make 26 three-pointers his junior year. He seems perfectly suited for a team that likes to push the ball and play an open-style offense, which is why many mocks have him slated to go to the likes of the Golden State Warriors at No. 11 or the Phoenix Suns at 13.
"I really think that he'll play on the wing, play the three and some four as well," said Dan Brinkley, the twins' coach at Prep Charter who is now managing their careers. "I can see him shooting the three ball, two-dribble pull ups, three-dribble pull ups. Marcus has the ability to be fouled. I see him as an aggressive wing player, like a Caron Butler. He recently worked with a trainer who was amazed how fluid he was."
Markieff is the prodigal power forward who likes to bang, grab rebounds and play defense. He was the second-leading scorer to his brother for the Jayhawks this past season, going for 13.6 a game. He led the Big 12 in field goal percentage (58.9 percent), rebounding (8.3) and double-doubles (13). He would appear to be an ideal fit for the Sixers, who are looking for a big man who can do the things that Markieff does.
"I see myself as a power forward who can guard centers and small forwards [as well as power forwards]," Markieff said. "It would be a great experience to play for my hometown, for the Sixers. I don't know anybody who wouldn't want to play for their hometown. We'll just have to see what happens."
Until their names are called at the draft, the two will be in Los Angeles working out under the guidance of Philly legend Pooh Richardson (Ben Franklin) and Brinkley, who recently retired from coaching after seven successful seasons at Prep Charter.
As much as they physically will be preparing themselves for the rigors of the NBA by shooting an endless amount of jump shots, by playing pickup games against the best competition they can find, and by bulking up their already strong bodies, they both know that the hardest challenge at the next level might be the mental one they will have to face of not being with their soul mate.
"It's going to be tough," said Marcus. "That's my best friend, someone that I've been with every day. We had the same classes, the same tutoring schedule at the same time, shower at the same time, in different showers. We have the same tattoos, we like the same foods, we are attracted to the same type of females. It's a twin thing. It's going to be tough, but it might be for the best."
Not for Mom, though. When her boys went off to Kansas, she got a job in Lawrence and was able to see most of their games and help them grow. Now, with her twins probably going to different parts of the country for their profession, it won't be so easy.
"I'll just have to try and split myself," Angel said with a laugh. "I'll have to spend a couple of months with one then a couple of months with the other."
It probably will be even harder for her sons.
"I'll send him some fruit, some flowers, tell him I'm thinking of him," said Marcus of the eventual breakup with Markieff. "We know it has to happen, when we get together it's going to be fun. But at the end of the day, we're going to have to part ways. Hopefully one of us becomes a superstar in the league and we can demand a trade and get us on the same team."
For now, though, the best-case scenario Marcus sees for one of them is this: "Playing for your hometown and where you grow up in front of the people that have seen you through the years and watched you grow up and play basketball and representing and have a Philadelphia jersey on would be special."
And ease some of the pain of the brothers being split up for the first time.
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