Phoenix Markieff Morris was born seven minutes ahead of twin brother Marcus. He was first in the NBA, too, selected by the Phoenix Suns at No. 13 overall, five minutes before the Houston Rockets made Marcus the No. 14 pick.
Markieff was in sweltering Phoenix on Friday to be introduced at a news conference at US Airways Center with his mother, Angel, beaming from the front row.
The 6-foot-9, 245-pound power forward said he will miss playing alongside his brother, as the pair did at Kansas, but he smiled while noting that Steve Nash might be an upgrade as a teammate. After all, Nash led the NBA in assists five of the last seven seasons.
“Steve is a great passer and I have great hands,” Morris said, “so it will be exciting playing with him.”
Coach Alvin Gentry cautioned that there would be a learning curve for the Suns’ pick, but said he expects Morris to be “a very good, really solid NBA player.”
“We need a guy that can add some toughness to our team,” Gentry said. “We need a guy defensively that can rotate, do some things like that. He does all of that. I think the big thing for us is he adds all that to our team but he also offensively is exactly the way we play. He shot over 40 percent from three. He’s a stretch player that can open up the floor. He can get out and run. You look at all the things offensively and what he adds, defensively, it was just a great fit for us.”
As a junior last season, Morris averaged 13.6 points and led the Big 12 in rebounding at 8.3 per game. He is the quieter of the twins off the court, but his demeanor changes demonstrably once the game starts.
“That’s my job,” he explained. “Off the court, I’m humble, but I’m excited on the court. I’m ready to just play. It excites me to play basketball. That’s how I am.”
Angel Morris raised the twins as a single mother in Philadelphia.
“They were humble,” she said, “they listened. They were good boys.”
Morris spoke of his mother’s firm hand and loving support.
“The one thing about us is we preach family,” he said. “As long as we had each other, we were OK. Times were rough, but as long as we were together, everything was cool with us.”
The boys played football but after both grew what seemed like a foot taller over a summer, they turned to basketball. Markieff watched from afar as Nash and Amare Stoudemire formed one of the most devastating pick-and-roll combinations the game has known. No one is calling Morris the next Stoudemire, and the Suns’ style is a world apart from the high-, low-post game of Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks. But Morris honed in on the Suns as a team that would be his favored destination.
“Just growing up, watching Steve, what he does with big guys, with Amare,” Morris said. “Watching that, I was a perfect fit for playing with Steve at the point guard. He has a high basketball IQ and he gets guys the ball.”
Morris knows that the next step of his career will have to wait until what could be a prolonged NBA labor dispute is resolved.
“It’s a lifelong dream, man,” he said. “It was a long journey to get here and I’m proud of my mom. My family’s been there with me.”