Nathan Aland is not hard to spot.
In the single-file warmup lines, where fresh-faced high school boys take turns receiving bounce passes then laying the ball off the backboard, Aland is the one with the goatee, a patch of white eyelashes over his left eye, standing 6 foot 11 and waiting to dunk.
Because of this, he has been both loved and laughed at by his Murray High teammates.
"They would give him a hard time," coach Jason Workman said with a grin. "He didn't dunk in a game until this year."
That's right. The kid who by 14 had grown taller than his 6-5 brother and the guy who says he models his game after a combination of Shaquille O'Neal and Wilt Chamberlain, never had slammed one when it counted.
But this year, the Spartans' starting center is breaking out and he finally got above the rim.
"Our kids were real excited for him," Workman said. "When that happens ... it really lifts everybody up."
That Aland has been able to elevate himself and his game is a credit to the senior captain's hard work and a renewed dedication to conditioning. In the past, injuries beset the center. He's worn a knee brace since middle school, and his sophomore season was cut short by a broken leg. His focus this year has been on cutting weight to save his joints from extra stress when game time rolls around.
Healthy now, Aland is averaging 16.2 points and 8 boards a game for the 6-3 Spartans.
He's surrounded by good shooters in Chase Topham and Dylan Ross, but Aland is the centerpiece.
"We structure our team around him," Workman said. "We always tell everybody we have to play inside-out. He is the inside. ... He's a handful."
Aland scored 21 and 20 in games against Bonneville and Jordan on back-to-back nights last week. In a game against West early in the season, he had a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocks.
"He's done a lot to make himself better," Workman said. "He's got a soft touch and he's got good hands. He's starting to use his massive size in a good way."
That includes the occasional slam.
With Murray clinging to a small lead last week against Riverton in the opening round of the Jordan Holiday Tournament, Aland helped put away the Silverwolves with a pair of dunks that left the backboard shaking long after the big man let go of the rim.
"There is no better feeling," Aland said. "I love that feeling."
Murray High School
16.2 ppg, 8 rpg