Jake Morton. A big man’s journey.

THOMASTON – On one side, Jake Morton had a forearm in his side and a shoulder in his chest. In front of him another player’s butt was planted on his thigh with hands and arms partially around his front and back. A third player positioned behind him had a forearm imbedded in the back and one leg anchored against the backside with a hand stretched out near the face.

There was almost a feeling that a GPS was needed to find air. Morton is too big to disappear from the middle of what was the ultimate basketball sandwich. But it was a claustrophobic existence. And it is a common existence these days. Welcome to the world of a big man, a very big man.

Morton is a 16-year-old junior at Thomaston High School and at 6-foot-10, 300 pounds the tallest player in Berkshire League history along with “The Morris Mountain” Chuck Ale kinas of Wamogo (1973-1977). In the BL and Naugatuck Valley League area he is the premier skyscraper. And there may be more, inches that is, with doctors not sure if he is finished growing.

In the meantime, that kind of size tends to draw a lot of attention with the space around Morton mostly looking like a rugby scrum. And Morton is getting better at handling the pesty crowd, averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks a game.

The progression has been steady from imposing presence to major factor. But there is the next step, another step to strive for.

Domination.

That is an unreachable goal for most players, but Morton is unlike most players, and it is a capability with his immense size. He is not there yet but it is what is possible.

“Jake took a big step from last year to this year” Thomaston coach A.J. Bunel said. “He more than just big, he is very skilled. He has good footwork and a soft touch. He is a game-changing player. A great off-season and he can be that dominant player. “

Opponents have gotten a taste of what Morton is this season and a preview of what he can become.

“Jake is what I call a unicorn on the basketball court,” Terryville coach Mark Fowler said. “They are extremely rare and when you come across one it changes everything. I felt I had one with Dom Dao (202018-2022). Jake has to be the focus of your planning on both ends of the court because if you don’t, you’ll lose. His potential? I think he has the ability to be a difference-maker for the Bears to make a deep run in the states the next two years. But, like all of us, getting to the potential is the challenge. “

Morton’s impact has been evident this season. On the defensive end, altered shots are the norm as are blocked shots. He has been a big detour sign for potential slashers who suddenly have had the hoop blocked from their vision by a healthy piece of Thomaston timber. Rebounding has been solid. On the offensive end, once he gets the ball down low, opponents have to take their medicine. There is no answer.

It is the major factor version of Morton and there is little disagreement that the path from major impact to domination will be largely dictated by physical conditioning. Morton played his sophomore season at 340 lbs. and worked hard to take off 40 pounds for the present season. But he knows there is more work to be done.

“My athleticism is not where it needs to be,” Morton said. “My speed, change of direction, jumping ability need to get better.”

“Jake took a big leap from the end of last year to this year. He made a real effort on his conditioning,” Bunel said. There’s no ceiling to the level of conditioning he aspires to. Wherever he goes there is a sliding scale to his conditioning. He can play longer periods of time and there will be an explosiveness in the moves he makes.”

Even at the major impact level, Morton, who plays 22-24 minutes a game, knows his ability to get up and down the court and add to his jumping ability are points to focus on.

Morton began his physical improvement push with a few adjustments at dinner time.

“I used to scare myself with what I would eat,” he said. “On any given night I would probably eat a large pizza with some chicken wings and wash it down with a couple of sodas. And snacks, (especially Cheese-Its), killed me.”

Morton has learned to both push the plate away to an extent and add some nutritious variety to the menu.

“I have been eating a lot less and I eat a bunch of fruits and vegetables,” Morton said.

Morton also began going to the gym three times and started the week and doing cross-fitness work including plyometrics (short, intense bursts of activity that help generate explosive power that increases speed and jumping height). A lot of work has been done including lifting weights, stretches, squats and calf raises. “

“I do something every day,” Besides going to the gym, I play basketball two hours a day,” he added. “When this season is over, I will get right back at it. This year I’m going to push even harder.”

Morton has a similar build to his father, Craig who is a husky 6-foot-3 and was a starter on Thomaston’s back-to-back state championship teams in 1990 and 1991. With one difference -there is another seven inches added on to date. In one sense he doesn’t see himself as someone who sticks out but also acknowledges the difficulties in growing up to eventually tower over 98 percent of the population.

“I have been tall all my life and forget about it myself until I see pictures of me with my friends,”

However, while many see an emerging major basketball force there are and have been the inevitable challenges. In planes or movie theatres Morton has to sit in exit rows and aisle seats. In cars he always has to be in the front seat. The only way to wedge him in the back seat would be with 67 gallons of WD-40 and a specially made oversized shoehorn.

Some doorways are a challenge and in his own house he has to duck under some lights. His knees brush to tops of tables when he sits down. When he was in fifth grade, Thomaston Center School had to ask the high school to send up new desks that he could fit in.

All of Morton’s clothes have to be ordered online. It has to be 2XL-Tall, or it won’t fit. Same idea with shoes / sneakers. While he needs a modest (for his size) size 15, most stores stop at size 14 so he has to order on-line in the department also.

Growing so fast has also brought about the challenge of learning how to adjust to a body that keeps getting bigger at a furious rate. Morton was 6-foot-1 in fifth grade, about a head taller than his classmates. In eighth grade he was 6-foot-4, and his doctor told him he would be 6-foot-5 by his junior year. A couple of months later he was 6-foot-5.

“Nobody understands how difficult it is to grow like that,” Morton said. “I felt like I was uncoordinated forever. I couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I got more comfortable as I got older but growing into your body is the hardest thing.”

Bunel has seen the challenge and the progress.”

“Jake has grown so much and so quickly that his coordination had trouble catching up,” Bunel said. “What he could do at 6-foot-1 he had trouble at 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6 doing.”

Yet, he is emerging. He has become the Bears focal player and teams are now double and triple teaming him. His teammates know the big fella’ needs to get the ball but are also learning to see that kind of attention opens up opportunities for them and Morton is finding success in finding them with passes from the post.

Bunel feels Morton could have been dominant this season, but success has come from spreading the scoring around. In the meantime, Morton has dealt with his growing emergence and maturity.

“He is just now reaping the benefits of his hard work,” Bunel said. “He’s navigating his body and adjusting to opponents laying into him all game. He’s a true gentleman with his teammates, coaches, and opponents. His voice is growing, he is more vocal in practice. I expect a great off-season and that he will come back to be a dominant force.

Morton’s emergence resulted in BL second-team All-Star honors this year. He wants more.

“I have set high standards and on the personal level first-team All-Star is a goal,” Morton said. He will continue to work on a diet and lose at least another 20 lbs. He will play AAU ball starting in the spring for CT. Focus and coaches Terrance Lott and Germaine Gracey who have pushed him to improve footwork and toughness.

He will do what he can do to be what he can become – DOMINANT.

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