- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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MADISON, Wis. -- Moriah Landry grabs one throw pillow and then another, stacking the cushions on top of her father's head. Clearly proud of her creation, the 2-year-old scampers up her daddy's shoulders and plops herself on top of the pillows.
The queen of the roost has found her perch.
Not 30 minutes earlier and only 10 miles away, sleepy-eyed Wisconsin basketball players shuffled out of the Kohl Center and returned to their dorm rooms and apartments. Their hour-long weightlifting session was over and the campus, still under a shroud of fog this Monday, was just stretching awake at 8 a.m.
Like his teammates, senior Marcus Landry headed home, too.
He turned the lock on his apartment door to find 3-year-old Marcus (everyone calls him M.J.) brushing his teeth in the bathroom and already itching to play Wii. Moriah was sleeping but woke minutes later to climb her daddy's head; and in the back bedroom 1-month-old Makaylah made her presence known, fussing loudly for her bottle.
"It's a little bit more than the average student-athlete,'' Landry laughed.
The next time a student-athlete whines about the grind of coursework and Division I athletics, someone ought to hold up Landry's picture -- not the head shot in the media guide; the one hanging on his wall. You know, the one with his wife and three kids.
Landry, a senior co-captain and second-team All-Big Ten selection, is carrying 12 credits, a top-25 basketball program and the weight of a young family on his broad shoulders.
"Oh my God, I can't imagine it,'' said teammate Joe Krabbenhoft, godfather to Makaylah. "It's hard enough for me managing my studies and basketball and a little bit of a social life. I can't even imagine. We go home and lay on the bed and he goes and puts kids to bed.''
It's the perfect morning to roll back over and go to sleep. The fog blanketing Madison is so thick that even if the sun were up, you wouldn't know it.
That the sun isn't yet up -- well, that makes the snooze button all the more enticing.
Landry yanks himself out of bed sometime before 6 a.m. -- "too early" -- and heads over to the Kohl Center for his weightlifting session. Outside, the campus is quiet save for the heartiest of hardy joggers. Inside, the only noise in the building is the clang of the barbells as they hit the floor.
This is a big year for Landry. A full-time starter for the first time last season, he rewarded coach Bo Ryan by finishing third on the team in scoring and rebounding. Always strong from 15 feet in, he developed a reliable outside shot that only improved as the season went on, and he was named most outstanding player at the Big Ten Tournament.
He knows that nothing shy of everything in terms of his basketball future rides on this season. Landry could become the second NBA player in the family -- following in the footsteps of his big brother, Carl, who just finished his rookie season with the Houston Rockets -- or at least score a lucrative contract overseas.
Even more importantly, it is the potential financial boost for his family that drags Landry out of bed. He and his wife, Efueko Osagie-Landry, who played at Marquette, are struggling to make ends meet. Their apartment is paid for as part of Landry's scholarship; grants help, as does support from Landry's family and brother, but raising three kids on what is essentially no income forces even the most creative parent to find new ways to stretch a dollar.
Parks, zoos and fishing trips fill up the summer. Coloring books and trips to Daddy's home games do in the winter months.
"We do a lot of praying,'' said Osagie-Landry, who graduated in 2006.
Wisely, Landry isn't putting all of his faith in basketball.
After his weightlifting session ends at 7:30 a.m., he pokes his head into the Fetzer Student-Athlete Academic Center. His advisor, Toni O'Keefe, is already in her office. Blessed with an ear for voices -- she can tell it's Landry down the hall and around the corner, though he barely speaks above a whisper -- and a penchant for detail, O'Keefe goes over Landry's coursework for the week.
He's on top of what's expected of him -- he'll graduate at the end of the summer with a degree in life sciences communication -- but admits that with so much to juggle at home, he has to be ever-mindful.
He fell into the academic abyss once, and isn't interested in dipping his toes in again. Midway through an impressive freshman season, Landry was declared academically ineligible. The missed semester was the final straw in a mental shake-up Landry needed.
Looking at Marcus Landry now -- husband and father of three at the age of 22 -- begs an obvious question: Were you always so mature?
To which Osagie-Landry belly-laughs an answer: "That's funny."
"Let's just say he's come a long way,'' Ryan offers with a smirk.
The bass guitar leaning against the wall is just too tempting. Moriah Landry gently touches the strings once, twice, a third time. She's not supposed to. It's Daddy's guitar and she knows it's off limits, but she's 2 and it's shiny and it's sitting right there.
Finally, one touch too many sends the guitar on a slow-motion dive to the floor. Moriah looks up at her daddy. On cue, he directs her to her room.
Without argument, she toddles off.
"They listen to him definitely better than me,'' Osagie-Landry says. "He's the disciplinarian.''
To anyone who knew Marcus Landry say, three years ago, that's would have been downright laughable. Landry wasn't a bad kid, just a playful one; the kind who loved to wrestle with his brother until the pictures fell off the walls and who was happily, gleefully and blissfully selfish.
He and his siblings grew up breaking hoops on the driveway rim, with Carl, Marcus and little sister Shenita (now a senior forward for Temple) going at it in heated games of one-on-one.
"I'm good at discipline,'' Landry jokes, "because I had a lot of it growing up.''
Between his academic suspension and starting a family, it was as if Landry was handed a how-to book on growing up.
Each pried Landry's eyes open a little wider, but none perhaps more than Osagie-Landry.
The two met when she came to Milwaukee (Landry's hometown) as a freshman and joined Landry's grandfather's church. They didn't start dating until two years later, when Landry left for Wisconsin in 2004.
"I'm the type the less you want me, the harder I work,'' Landry said. "She wouldn't give me the time of day.''
As silly and playful as Landry was, Osagie-Landry was that serious. A double-major at Marquette, she was always an old soul who wore responsibility with ease.
"We roomed together freshman year,'' Krabbenhoft said. "When he met Efueko, he told me 'This is gonna be my wife.' I'm like, 'C'mon.'
The couple married April 22, 2006, and a month later, Moriah arrived. More than a handful of people told them they were crazy. They certainly wouldn't have been the first to raise a family without walking down the aisle, but both are faithful churchgoers -- Landry plays the bass at a Madison church and at his grandfather's church in Milwaukee -- and believed getting married was not only the right thing to do; it was what felt right.
After she had Moriah, Osagie-Landry played an entire season, often living off the fumes of two hours of sleep. She rearranged her schedule, taking only night classes so that her teammates and Landry's mother could watch the baby.
And she still helped Marquette to the NCAA Tournament, averaging 5.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, and graduated with degrees in communications and sociology.
"I don't like to be pie in the sky, but I do believe it's not coincidental that when [Landry] got married, things changed,'' Ryan said. "He's gotten more mature in every aspect of his life.''
Marcus and Efueko are a content couple, if occasionally shell-shocked at all they have to handle at a young age.
They have a decent division of labor: He does the baths; she does most diapers. An excellent cook who can whip up something out of what seems a cabinet full of mixed-up canned goods, he makes dinner whenever time allows (he dreams of hosting a cooking show on ESPN in which athletes get to show off their famous dishes and compete in cook-offs).
It's not easy, especially on Osagie-Landry, who is a stay-at-home mother and often finds herself home alone with three kids and no car.
But it's generally entertaining.
During a film session last season, as assistant coaches pointed out the players' mistakes, the Badgers could hear M.J. reciting the dialogue to "Happy Feet" as he watched the movie in the back of the room.
"They're telling us what we did wrong,'' Krabbenhoft said, "and you can hear M.J. back there singing and saying all the words. It was hysterical.''
At noon, Landry reluctantly kisses his family goodbye and heads back to campus.
This time as he drives, his own music pumps from the speakers. On the way home in the morning, he didn't realize he was listening to a Dora the Explorer movie until he pulled into the apartment-complex parking lot.
"It happens all the time,'' Landry says. "I don't even notice.''
This being preseason and this being Monday, he and his teammates will "run the hill,'' a conditioning drill that Ryan has turned into something of a Wisconsin hoops rite of passage. Today's segment calls for 16 trips up the hill.
Nursing an injured groin, Landry runs 12 and walks four.
At 4 p.m., the team sits through a quick media seminar in which Landry -- affectionately called "Old Man'' by his teammates -- tries like mad to make the others laugh as they do mock interviews.
The seminar goes longer than expected, forcing Landry to bolt across campus for his one class of the day, rural sociology. Today's discussion is whether or not the term "community" is still viable. As the professor weaves his way through the lecture, he asks the class of about 150 who are some of the most powerful people in Madison. Landry laughs and mutters to himself, "Bo Ryan."
A classmate turns around and laughs.
Finally at 5:30 p.m., nearly 12 hours after he first woke up, Landry's day is over.
It's also just beginning.
The kids and Osagie-Landry are itching for Daddy to get home. They're hitting the mall tonight to buy Mommy a Wii Fit and the kids some dinner. But before they can get out the door, the packing-up-the-kids-waltz begins.
M.J. wants to wear his light-up Spiderman shoes; Landry prefers the mini Air Jordans. Daddy wins the battle, but a grumpy little man convinces him it's not worth the war. Off go the Jordans; out comes Spidey.
In the meantime, Osagie-Landry is chasing Moriah into her clothes and a hairdo. Makaylah sleeps contentedly on the sofa.
Then it's time to pack the diaper bag: Out go the old wipes, in go the new; along with two bottles, an extra blanket, diapers and a bib. If they could squeeze a generator in the bag, you get the feeling they would.
"You know the one thing we need is the one thing we won't pack,'' Osagie-Landry says with a laugh.
Makaylah is stuffed into her car-seat carrier while Landry fetches the new double stroller from the kids' bedroom. M.J. has picked a movie to watch in the car, and Moriah is clinging to a Dora doll. A quick hunt yields a missing pony she wants to bring as well.
Finally, they are out the door. Landry reloads the car seats and the kids climb in, ready for a mini-adventure.
Baths, stories and bedtime still await. Somewhere down the road, the promise of sleep teases the grown-ups like an impossible-to-reach dream.
"Moriah, you need a tissue,'' Osagie-Landry says. "We forgot to pack the tissues.''
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.