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April 28, 2008

Morris twins ready to Rock Chalk

NEW YORK While watching the recent NCAA championship game at home in Philadelphia with family members, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris enjoyed a perspective that no one else in the country could share.

The twins, from Apex Academies(CQ) in Pennsauken, N.J., had committed to both teams in the title game: Memphis and Kansas.

They originally chose Memphis in 2006, then de-committed (twice) and ultimately signed with Kansas in November.

So how did they feel watching Mario Chalmers hit that fateful 3-pointer for Kansas to send the game into overtime?

"After he made that shot, the game was over because we (Kansas) had that momentum going into the overtime," said Markieff, a mobile 6-foot-10, 215-pound power forward.

With Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur headed to the NBA, Kansas' future was on display when the Morris twins combined for 36 points to lift the Suburban team to a 129-127 victory over the City team April 19 in the Jordan Brand Regional Game at Madison Square Garden. Marcus (6-9/230) had a team-high 20 points in the victory, while Markieff added 16.

Quintrell Thomas, a 6-8, 235-pound power from Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick who is also headed to Kansas, was another contributor to the Suburban team's victory.

In order to prepare themselves socially, academically and physically for college, the Morris twins spent this season of prep school at Apex Academy after helping Philadelphia Prep Charter win two state titles under coach Dan Brinkley. The brothers were 17 when they finished high school.

The twins are awaiting their SAT scores, but Rich Marcucci, vice president of Apex Academies, said he expects them to qualify. "They should be fine, they're very close," Marcucci said.

Marcucci says Apex is an academy where the basketball training supersedes the importance of winning. Players spend 90 minutes each day on strength and conditioning, and 90 minutes on basketball-specific skills.

"As far as conditioning goes, they made tremendous strides," Marcucci said. "I don't know that they've worked out that hard on their bodies before coming to Apex."

Markieff entered the school as a traditional post player, but Marcucci said the goal was to get him away from the basket and "make him more of a shooting 'four' (power forward). We prohibited him in many games from putting his back to the basket. We forced him to put the ball on the floor."

Markieff averaged 27.2 points and 12 rebounds to earn team MVP honors. Marcus, who averaged 24.8 points and eight rebounds, is a more offensive-minded player who can play anywhere from point guard to power forward.

"Our role with Marcus was to get him on the perimeter and make him a swing player and handle the ball a lot," Marcucci said.

Kansas coach Bill Self said he was excited to land the twins.

"We feel Marcus and Markieff Morris are two of the most underrated players in the country," Self said. "Both twins are very skilled, as they can both shoot the ball with range and also have an inside game.

"Markieff is a big forward that can play either spot on your front line.

He is a very good low post player. Marcus is a very skilled, do-everything wing when he has the ball. He is a tall perimeter player that can also go inside."

While the twins spent this past season in South Jersey, Thomas played his ball in North Jersey at St. Patrick, one of the elite teams in the nation. The Celtics entered this season having won back-to-back New Jersey Tournament of Champions crowns under coach Kevin Boyle. This season, St. Patrick lost to Jersey City St. Anthony in the North Non-Public B title game.

Thomas averaged 14.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, two steals and two blocks on the season and earned second-team all-state honors. The Celtics played a brutal national schedule, including several national-TV games. Thomas feels that level of competition will prepare him for what's ahead.

"During the season, we play one or two weak teams," he said. "Every other team could possibly beat us, so it helps you to not play down to the competition."

A strong defender and defensive rebounder, Thomas still is developing his offensive repertoire.

"The strength of my game is defensive rebounding, so (Coach Self) wants me to come in and do what I do best and work on my offense while I'm there," Thomas said.

Said Self: "Quintrell Thomas is an athletic, quick-twitched, prototypical power forward. His offensive game is one that is expanding. Quintrell has played for one of the very best high school basketball programs in the country at St. Pat's. Quintrell will give us an element of toughness, and his defensive rebounding will be something we look to early in his career."

With Kansas likely to lose at least a couple of the big men who helped it win a national championship, the next wave is on the way.

"I think we can get back to another championship," Marcus said.

And can the Jersey trio help Kansas repeat?

"I think so," he said.

Adam Zagoria is a sportswriter for the Herald News (N.J.). Read more on his blog, ZagsBlog

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