Morton stands tall for Sailors

Alex Morton plays basketball much more than she watches the sport on television.

The Newport Harbor High senior center would rather flip the ball into the basket than flip through the channels.

"Everyone's always so surprised to hear that," Morton said. "Some people are just religious with it. My dad will call me and he's like, 'Alex, the Lakers are on, are you going to watch Bynum today?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, sure.' Then, 'Oh wait, I forgot.' "

She admits she's using an old example. Andrew Bynum, the Los Angeles Lakers center, has not played this year for the purple and gold as he's recovering from a knee injury.

Morton has already dealt with injuries herself this season, namely a strained back. But, unlike Bynum, she has definitely made her presence felt for the Sailors.

The Daily Pilot High School Girls' Athlete of the Week was instrumental as Newport Harbor won the CdM Tip-off Tournament last week, defeating the rival Sea Kings, 43-34, in the final at Northwood High. Morton, named the tournament Most Valuable Player, averaged 14.8 points, 14.3 rebounds and eight blocks over the Sailors' four wins.

She recorded her first varsity triple-double in the tournament-opening win against Western, with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. The next night against El Modena, she missed another triple-double by a single block.

The numbers don't matter to Morton. Never have. That's why when she was in a shooting funk in the first half of the final against CdM — Morton thinks it was because of her back — she passed the ball off to teammates.

It wasn't a hard decision for Morton, with 6-foot-2 junior Kasey Thompson also playing a prominent role for the Tars (5-0).

"I've always wanted this team to not be affected by personal glory," said Morton, a team captain. "In the past, it's been all about, 'I want my points, and I want my name in the paper.' With this team this year, I feel like I need to lead them by showing them that, no, it's not about how many points you have.

"It's about how many points we have. You need to get it to the player or players who are going to get you those points and win you the game. Kasey was on fire that night."

Morton still finished the game with 16 rebounds, six steals and six blocks. Second-year coach Justin Long knows Morton, a first-team All-Sunset League selection last year, can contribute in a variety of ways.

Long called Morton the best post player he's ever coached in girls' basketball. He starts three girls over 6-foot tall, a list that also includes 6-foot sophomore Lexi Kunkle. They have the Sailors thinking big, too, wanting to improve on their overall (nine) and league (one) win totals from a season ago.

Long didn't have girls with as much size in his previous three-year stint at Century, but it's more than just the sheer size with Morton.

"She's not just tall," Long said. "She knows how to utilize her size. You'd think with somebody who has all these high-profile numbers, she might want to get her own stats. But it doesn't affect her game. She doesn't have to force the issue. She's very intelligent; she's easy to coach."

Morton has been playing basketball since the fifth grade, and on the Sailors' varsity team since her sophomore year. Growing up, she said she played on NJB and All-Net teams with some of the Corona del Mar players, like guards Kayla Marolt and Ellie Nadal.

That familiarity makes the Battle of the Bay games fun, Morton said. They're fun in the Morton household as well. Her father Garinn is a Newport Harbor alumnus, and mother Kandi went to CdM.

"My mom will always be like, 'I hope CdM wins!,' but joking," Alex Morton said. "It's funny. It's not like my mom's bitter."

Still, Alex has had her way in those rivalry games, never losing. Well, there was that one time in fall league at Segerstrom.

Morton lowered her voice.

"We didn't have Kasey or Mandy [Legault], I think, and they beat us," Morton said. "It wasn't an official game, but they have beaten us. I say that quietly because I don't want people to know about it."

Morton can laugh it off. She's very competitive on the court and off, with a 4.3 grade-point average and four Advanced Placement classes this year.

That might not leave too much room for Lakers games, but Bynum is expected back soon. Maybe dad will call her again.

More likely, he'll just keep watching her keep putting up numbers that would make the Lakers' big men jealous.

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