Brotherly advice for Morris twins

Van Arsdale says separation is hard

July 01, 2011|By J. Brady McCollough, Kansas City Star

LAWRENCE, Kan. — One of the more telling moments from the Morris twins' three years at Kansas happened in March in the first half of an 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 blocks. But instead of putting up a shot he had 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. The Illini took possession, and Kansas coach Bill Self hemorrhaged on the sideline.

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

Simple. He was being a Morris twin.

The move was unorthodox only if you don't know Marcus and Markieff, who are always thinking about each 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 thanks mostly to the dominance of the twins.

After the season ended, a thought emerged: Such antics may be over. The Jayhawks' loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the Elite Eight could have been 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."

No, it is not the end of the world. But it is the end of their world, 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, Markieff will live in Phoenix and play for the Suns, who drafted him 13th on Thursday, and Marcus will live 1,000 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. 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's there to help.

Dick and Tom Van Arsdale were the NBA's first and best twin tandem. But, before each became three-time All-Stars, they were young men who knew nothing but life with the other one by his side.

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. On draft day in 1965, Dick was drafted by the Knicks with the 10th pick in the second round, and Tom was taken by the Pistons with the next pick.

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

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

"It was just loneliness," Tom says. "It would probably be like a husband and wife who lived together 50 years. We did everything together."

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 and averaged 15.3 points per game for his career. In 1968, Dick had become the "Original Sun"—the first pick for the expansion 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.

Today, the Van Arsdale twins both live in Phoenix, where they share an office at the family's real estate company. Tom Van Arsdale is 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."

Marcus Morris says he and Markieff plan to share a house in the offseason . 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, "but these are things you really can't control," Marcus says.

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

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

Two things they share are their love of basketball and turning their teams into minifamilies. Brinkley sees that as the easiest way for the twins to adjust to their 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."

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