Morgan Warburton: Ute has basketball in her blood

Published March 23, 2009 11:23 pm
Helper native is from a family of athletes
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After just about every workout and every pickup basketball game where Morgan Warburton would be off to the side shooting hoops by herself, Chase Warburton would run through the door, look around and head for his father, John. Then he would tell him how much his little sister had improved.

One day, it would be Morgan's jump shot that got better. The next day, her dribbling would improve. The next, she'd add the left hand to her basketball tool box.

This continued for years as Morgan, eight years Chase's junior, would constantly tag along with her brother, find an isolated basket and work on the skills that have made her the Mountain West Conference player of the year and the focus of Maryland's attention as the Utes get ready to play the Terrapins in the second round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament here at 5 p.m. MDT today.

"Chase would always come in and tell me how much she's improved her game," John Warburton said. "We knew she was going to be a player when she was very young, as soon as she could walk and dribble a basketball. It was pretty obvious, even back then."

When you are the fifth of six children, as Morgan is, and from an athletic family -- John and his wife, Stacy, both played ball at Snow College and two sisters also played college basketball -- the genes tend to trickle down to you. And there is little question that those basketball molecules, coupled with growing up in the Utah mining town of Helper, played a large role in turning Warburton into the player she is today.

John Warburton says her daughter got her on- and off-court chops -- she is a big practical joker -- from her sisters.

"She's the kind of person that will dare you to do stuff, and watch stupid people like me take her up on the dare," Utes junior forward Kalee Whipple said.

On the floor, Warburton has developed into one of the best guards in the country, a regional All-American and one of the best clutch players who longtime Utah coach Elaine Elliott has ever tutored.

"I've never had a player that's had the willingness to take the last shot and just live with the results, whether it be good or not," Elliott said.

If Utah is to pull the upset tonight -- they're playing Maryland on the Terps' home floor -- and move on to the NCAA tourney's Sweet 16, it's going to be Warburton pulling the strings.

The 5-foot-11 senior is a deadly scorer and passer, and the moment is never too big for her: Warburton has hit two game-winners in the past three weeks for her team.

The Ute guard can also knock down the free throws. That much was obvious when she won Elks National free-throw contest at 13, knocking down 23 of 25 foul shots.

Warburton's competitive nature, fierce on the court, belies her persona, which friends and teammates describe as sweet, good-natured and giving. But on the court, as a leader, Warburton will do just about anything to win games.

"When I'm done, I want people to hear my name and think that I was a great player, a great teammate and one that will do anything for my teammates," she said.

Much like a parent who hates to choose between her favorite children, Elliott slightly recoils when asked where Warburton ranks among the best players she's coached for the past three decades. But there is no doubt that Warburton at least belongs in the conversation when the topic turns to the best guards in Utah women's basketball history.

Warburton is the Utes' all-time leader in free-throw shooting percentage and foul shots made.

She's fourth on the school career scoring list, and she's third in 3-point field goals made.

Those are just a few of the reasons why Warburton is a local celebrity -- along with BYU football player Jan Jorgensen -- around Helper. And it's the reason why an entire town will be tuned in to ESPN2 today to watch Utah attempt to slay one of the biggest names in college basketball.

tjones@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">tjones@sltrib.com

Utah vs. Maryland

The Utah women's basketball team takes on Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament at 5 p.m. MDT today at the Comcast Center. Maryland is considered one of the top teams and the game will be played on Maryland's home floor. › D1

Morgan Warburton

Grew up in Helper

The Class 3A player of the year at Carbon High School

20th player in Utah history to score 1,000 career points

Was the preseason and postseason Mountain West Conference player of the year

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