John and Stacy Warburton made quite an investment several years ago. The $500 they spent on a small cement slab and a basketball hoop in the back yard of their home in Helper has paid off handsomely.
All six of their children went on to have noteworthy careers at Carbon High School, and the four girls in the family went on to play college basketball.
The assembly line has supplied talent for the College of Eastern Utah, Southern Utah and Weber State. The current beneficiary is the University of Utah.
Junior Morgan Warburton, the youngest of the sisters, is in the midst of a stellar career at Utah. She's currently averaging 17.3 points and six rebounds for the 19th-ranked Utes, who have won 15 consecutive games. They enter Saturday's game at San Diego State with a 20-3 record, including a 9-0 mark in Mountain West Conference play.
"She's just a great player, and she's fun to play with," said senior point guard Leilani Mitchell, whose arrival has allowed Warburton to play her natural position as a shooting guard. "She keeps our team going. When we need someone to score she usually steps up and does that for us."
Warburton earned first-team, all-conference honors last season and was a contributor on Utah's Elite Eight squad as a freshman.
"It was a perfect start in that regard because she was able to come off the bench. She did not have to be the leading scorer. There was not a lot of pressure on her," said head coach Elaine Elliott. "She wasn't drawing the toughest defensive assignments because we had Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn. Yet, we knew she was extremely talented. She would score on people."
Despite not taking the usual route of playing AAU or competitive basketball in the summers, Warburton stepped right in and made an immediate impact at the collegiate level.
"That says a lot about her because she had a long ways to come as far as sort of learning how to be confident, knowing how good she was and recognizing how much things get better in college," said Elliott, who explained that Warburton was able to get a feel for things as a freshman and didn't have to perform under the most difficult circumstances.
Things completely changed the next season, however.
"She became the focus of attention. She was the one that everybody's best defender was on," explained Elliott. "Really, it says a lot. She was a first-team, all-conference player, who averaged as much as she did (15.8 points per game), with as much pressure as there was on her to make plays last year."
Warburton led the Utes, who lost Smith and Thorburn to the WNBA, to a 19-14 record and the second round of the WNIT. She credits her experience as a freshman for easing the transition.
"I knew what my role was because I wasn't the one who had to score 20 every night. It wasn't intimidating for me because I knew Kim, Shona and Julie (Larsen) were on the court. They were the leaders. I just had to follow them," said Warburton. "It was a good example for me because the next two years I've had to step into those roles."
Capitalizing on the wisdom and experience of others is nothing new for Warburton. She's learned a lot observing her siblings play the game.
"I've had people to look up to in my family. My sisters are amazing players that I watched growing up," said Warburton. "I could just see what they did. They're all different players and I think I got a mix of all of them because I got to watch all of them."
Morgan also followed her older brother around and often played basketball with him.
"I just learned a lot of things," she said. "My parents were always supportive. They were always there, taking us to games and doing everything they could do for us."
Athletics have always been a passion for the Warburtons. John and Stacy were high school basketball stars who met while playing for Snow College.
The backyard basketball court they later built became a neighborhood hub for pick-up games.
It was a competitive but supportive atmosphere.
"The sisters are really supportive of each other. They were never really challenged by each other," said Stacy Warburton. "All of them are different kinds of players."
Morgan's older sisters McKell, Cassie and Chelsey all played for CEU. Cassie and Chelsey went on to play for Southern Utah and Weber State, respectively. Brothers Chase and Cole, the eldest and youngest of the Warburton children, were contributors at Carbon High School.
"There wasn't a night, I don't think, where we weren't going to a game or something with sports," said Morgan, who was also an all-state volleyball and softball player. "It was just a great experience for me because sports brings a lot to people.
"Our family was just so close. We were teammates. We were best friends. We just support each other in that way," she added.
Stacy recalls nights where she had five kids playing at four different places. There were weekends where she attended games in three cities.
Things aren't so hectic these days. Morgan is the only daughter with eligibility remaining, and younger brother Cole accepted an offer from Elliott to become one of Utah's team managers this season allowing the Warburtons to see two of their children at once when the Utes play.
"This year it's kind of like I'm on vacation when I go because I'm not worried about getting to another (game)," said Stacy. "But I miss watching them all play."
It's been a fun ride for the Warburtons. Not everybody gets the chance to play college basketball and they know it.
"We just tried to instill in them hard work and those kind of things. And it's all paid off for them," said Stacy. "They've put in lots of hours. It wasn't something that just came to them. They've put in a lot of time.
"It's nice to be able to show them if you put that kind of work into something regardless of where it is in your life you can reap something good from it," she added.
Elliott acknowledges it's "pretty cool" for a family from rural Helper to achieve such success.
"They all had great careers," she said. "And Morgan's on her way to a phenomenal career."
Morgan, she continued, was on Utah's radar screen for a long time. The Utes wanted her from the start and considered her to be the best high school guard in the state in 2005."I always tell people the only reason why I think I'm here is because of my family. I got to see everything happen in front of me. I got to go to their practices, and I got to watch them play. I got to watch them do everything," said Morgan. "They were my focus. They're all different players, and I just wanted to learn and grow. I think I took that and have a mix of all of it. So I was the lucky one in the end."
Little brother chipping in
Utah coach Elaine Elliott wasn't worried about bringing Morgan Warburton's younger brother, Cole, into the program as a team manager. He also participates on the all-male scout squad.
Elliott knows the Warburton family well and knew that Cole was a great guy who was close to Morgan and good friends with her.
"I love Cole. He's so cute. People are like 'Isn't it weird to have your brother around?' It's not. It's always fun," said Morgan.
"The girls really like him. It's good for me to go against him (on the court) because we're a little bit competitive. It's good because I can play against somebody who knows my game and can push me that way, too."
Cole, who was headed to CEU before accepting Elliott's offer at Utah, appreciates being around his sister."It's nice to be able to go to her games and everything to see how much better she's gotten since high school," said Cole. "She's stepped up pretty good, and it's fun to see."
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