Jan. 27, 2003
BERKELEY - LaTasha O'Keith knows who's calling when the phone rings at 2 a.m.
It's her younger brother, Marcus, asking to borrow her car to go to Jack in the Box.
Marcus, a 6-1 freshman tailback on the Cal football team, lives upstairs in the Clark Kerr Dormitory from LaTasha, a 5-7 junior guard on the school's basketball squad. Despite their busy schedules, they see each other almost every day, sometimes at less than ideal hours.
After a long day of classes and practice in the fall, 19-year-old Marcus periodically has late night cravings for fast food. LaTasha, 20, doesn't welcome middle of the night calls, especially when she has a 6 a.m. conditioning workout with her team. But she'll make an exception for her brother.
"He is always there to give me advice," said LaTasha. "We're always there to help each other. I'm always there to help him, whether it's money or if he's feeling lonely or down, if he needs a ride, some clothes real quick for a certain event, with anything."
Athletic siblings aren't new to Cal. Recent examples include Solomon and Gabriel Hughes (basketball); Bolota and Yonathan Asmerom (track & field and cross country); Elissa and Lori Riedy (track & field and cross country); Bruce and Keith Vogelgesang (swimming) and Steve and Greg Panawek, who are currently on the basketball and water polo teams, respectively.
LaTasha and Marcus have grabbed the attention of Cal fans as much as any of their sibling predecessors. After excelling athletically at Narbonne High School in Harbor City in Southern California, they are looking to turn around Cal programs, which haven't seen much recent success.
The O'Keith siblings are at different stages in their collegiate careers. LaTasha is one of the stars of the basketball team, while Marcus was a first-year tailback in the fall.
From LaTasha's freshman to her sophomore season at Cal, she more than doubled her scoring average from 3.8 to 9.2 points per game. As the Bears' starting shooting guard last season, she finished second on the team in scoring and steals (1.4 spg), and contributed 3.1 rebounds per contest. The 2002 honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection is Cal's top returning scorer heading into the 2002-03 campaign.
Marcus proudly takes some credit for his sister's trademark aggressive drives to the basket.
"Every time she took it to the hole, I tried to demolish everything," said Marcus. "She liked to get out there and get rough. She played football with us, but most of the time I played basketball with her. I used to rough her up. I elbowed her. I gave her a couple of black eyes and busted her lip. That always stopped the game. She'd get mad at me."
Women's basketball coach Caren Horstmeyer identifies LaTasha as the team's best penetrator. This season, she'd like to see her refine this asset and continue to improve as a defender.
"LaTasha has a great ability to drive to the basket," said Horstmeyer, who enters her third season at Cal. "Hopefully, this year, she'll learn when it is a great time to go to the basket and when it isn't. A great asset LaTasha has, that we haven't seen enough of, is her penetration and dish to a post. She can do that very well, and with the size that we have this year, she should be able to do that more frequently."
Prior to joining the Cal program, LaTasha helped lead the 1999-00 Narbonne team to a No. 1 national ranking (USA Today) and the state title with a 34-0 mark, averaging 11 points, eight assists, five rebounds and four steals per outing.
While LaTasha's statistics were solid in high school, Marcus put up All-American numbers and was more highly recruited by nationally renowned programs. Billed as one of the best running backs in the state by PrepStar magazine, Marcus rushed for more than 3,300 yards and 35 touchdowns in four seasons at Narbonne. He also played varsity basketball for three seasons.
In many ways, Marcus' high school accomplishments overshadowed his sister's. Even so, jealousy never played a part in their lives.
"My brother is blessed with what he's achieved," said LaTasha. "I'm happy for him. I never feel like he's getting more publicity than me, or he's better than me. I'll always support him and be happy for him. There's no negative feelings, even if he is better than me. I'll help him to be even better."
Playing behind senior Joe Igber and sophomore Terrell Williams, Marcus saw limited action before an injury ended his season. A highlight was a 21-yard touchdown run in Cal's 70-22 season-opening win over Baylor.
"I was happy for him," said LaTasha. "It was his first college game. To see him score a touchdown was a blessing. He was so happy. My parents keep playing it every weekend. He said to me 'Tasha, people are so surprised. I've been making touchdowns my whole life. I don't get why they're so surprised.'"
Before Marcus signed a letter of intent to play at Cal, LaTasha researched the new Bears' coaching staff, as she was eager to have her brother become a Golden Bear. Regardless of her wishes, she knew that Marcus had to make the right decision for his future. Marcus acknowledges that his sister was a factor in his decision to don the blue and gold.
"Tasha always used to tell me that she wanted me to go to the best college that fits me," said Marcus. "I know that deep down inside she wanted me to come to Cal. When I got up here, everyone was saying, 'Your sister has been talking about you and how much she wants you to come up here and do well.' She was real excited about my decision. That makes me feel good. That's one of the reasons I picked to go here."
Their mother, Jackie, played basketball and their father, Mark, lettered in football at different junior colleges. Neither pushed their children to play sports but were there to support them in all of their athletic endeavors.
Growing up, the duo shared many of the same friends and spent ample time together playing sports, going shopping and hanging out. Family vacations to Paris and London, along with trips within the United States to LaTasha's basketball tournaments, helped build a strong sibling bond.
"It's always good to have your brother, who is also your best friend, with you," said LaTasha.
The siblings say they both love to laugh and joke around. However, LaTasha sees some differences in their personalities.
"I don't think Marcus worries," she said. "He's more laid back than me. He's outgoing, but I don't think he's as outgoing as me. He's confident because of our family, and so am I."
LaTasha also admits that Marcus is more of a natural athlete, whereas she has had to work harder for her athletic success. Both of their collegiate careers should improve with the added family support on campus. Just as she did when they were younger, LaTasha strives to be a good role model for Marcus at Cal.
Bowl bids, Pac-10 titles and NCAA Tournaments are some of the things the siblings aspire to achieve before they graduate. While a strong sports legacy would be great to leave behind, both want to be known for more than their athletic accomplishments.
"I want people to remember us as a really good family, a family that was fun to be around," she said.
Lucky for Marcus, his family will always be there, even in the middle of the night. N