Former Titan Morton Is Still Stringing Out His Play : Basketball: Although his goal remains the NBA, Fullerton's No. 2 career scorer is happy to be around the game.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Richard Morton has followed the bouncing ball through more countries than your average American Express card and to more out-of-the-way gymnasiums than a third-rate rock-and-roll band, and now his tour has led him to a league in which the employees sometimes even have a hard time keeping track of their teams.

Welcome to the Rapid City (S.D.) Thrillers and the Continental Basketball Assn.

"They play in Yakima on Wednesday night," the Thriller secretary says over the telephone. "Yakima, Texas."

Pause.

"Wait, I'm not even sure if it's Texas. It could be in Oklahoma."

Pause.

"Let me check my sheet here."

Pause.

"Ah, Washington. It's Yakima, Washington."

So it is.

This is your typical minor league in which most players have their eye on making it to The Show. But Morton, Cal State Fullerton's second all-time leading scorer, has been around long enough simply to be thankful he is still around.

He joined Rapid City about three weeks ago after playing in Greece, and he has quickly made his mark. He is the Thrillers' go-to guy, averaging 14.9 points, and already he has scored 31 against Wichita Falls and 46 in a double-overtime victory over Oklahoma City.

The team is in first place in the National Conference's Midwest Division and will begin the playoffs next week.

"Right now, I'm not hoping for (the NBA)," said Morton, who scored 1,705 points for the Titans between 1984 and 1988. "If it comes, it comes. I just want to be able to continue to play.

"When I was coming out of college, that's what I was banking on."

So he went to camp with the Indiana Pacers as a free agent in the fall of 1988 and even made the opening day roster when the club put John Long on the injured-reserve list. But Long came back, Morton was sent packing and his odyssey began.

He caught on with the Topeka (Kan.) Sizzlers of the CBA, was traded to the Rochester (Minn.) Flyers, went to camp with the NBA's Golden State Warriors, got cut, played for the CBA's San Jose Jammers, played in the Philippines, went to camp with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, got cut, went back to San Jose, was traded to the Albany (N.Y.) Patroons, played in Belgium, played in Greece and, suddenly, he is six years out of college and calling South Dakota home.

It is a life in which calendar pages are as disposable as the latest room service menu.

"It's kind of tough, bouncing around, but you talk to a lot of guys and they're going through the same thing," Morton said. "When you go to a team, you know a lot of the players already from playing summers and from going overseas.

"At first, it's difficult, but as you go on, it gets much easier."

But fast-breaking from Greece to South Dakota, or from Rochester to Belgium, in one week's time is never a gimme. Sometimes, a long, bumpy bus ride is easier to endure than trying to decide which is more exhausted, your body or your mind.

"A lot of times you feel like that," Morton said. "If you love the game as much as you think you do, after awhile, you sit down and relax and get ready to start another game.

"There are times when I think, 'Man, why can't I have a regular 9-to-5 job and be blessed with staying in one place instead of all of this traveling?' "

He acknowledges that giving it up has crossed his mind, but then the telephone rings and a voice in a distant city is offering a job, a contract, an opportunity .

And he packs the suitcase.

The most money Morton has made in a season, he said, is $70,000 for eight months in Belgium. During his first year in the CBA, the pay was only $450 to $500 a week but now it is much higher.

"You have players making between $1,500 and $2,000 a week now," said Morton, 27. "The money is good."

And sometimes, the games are better.

"He's a phenomenal scorer," Rapid City Coach Eric Musselman said. "He can post-up. I can play him anywhere from off-guard to power forward. . . .

"The thing people don't realize is how great his anticipation is on defense. He has great hands."

Musselman, who doubles as Rapid City's general manager, had been pursuing Morton for two years, ever since coaching him in a CBA All-Star game.

"You only have two practices before the All-Star game," Musselman said. "He was really easy to get along with and he understood the plays really well. He had no problem understanding our offensive sets.

"I played him more than anybody on the team."

Not only was Morton, 6 feet 5, a quick study, Musselman was impressed with his attitude.

"Guys get looked at by NBA scouts (at the All-Star game), and it's interesting how he accepted playing the power forward spot," Musselman said. "He's really an off-guard, and I thought he made a great sacrifice to play power forward."

Musselman finally acquired Morton last summer, only to learn that Morton already had made a commitment to play in Greece. But Morton was agreeable to joining Rapid City after the Greece season ended, and he arrived in early March.

A few days later, the team was en route in two vans to a game in Fargo, N.D., when the vehicle in which Morton was riding was hit from behind.

"We got to a stoplight and boom, a lady ran into us from behind," Morton said. "Eric got out and started talking to the lady, and she had no license, no insurance, and suddenly, she got back in her car and took off. The police caught her about two miles down the road."

Four players were taken to the hospital as a result of the accident, and Morton was wheeled away on a stretcher with lower back pains. He was back playing a few days later.

Then there was the time a few years ago when Morton was playing with San Jose, and the team bus ran into a car on the way to a game in Wichita Falls, Tex. The passenger was injured and the bus had to remain at the scene for a couple of hours.

The stories collect as quickly as the miles. Years pass, cities change, even countries change. One thing doesn't: Morton still has to lace up sneakers before reporting for work.

"I definitely think he could play in the NBA," said Musselman, who spent a season there himself as an assistant coach to his father, Bill, with the Timberwolves. "No question in my mind.

"I think it's all a matter of timing, being in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, this can lead him to where he will be watched by NBA people."

The right place at the right time? Morton has been to so many places, who can tell anymore?

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