Butler's Ethan Morton is the 2020 Post-Gazette male athlete of the year
JUN 13, 2020
Statistics tell plenty about Ethan Morton’s basketball talent. Some stats show how terrific his senior season was at Butler High School and others suggest he was one of the most versatile players the WPIAL has seen in decades.
But six particular numbers also tell a lot about Morton. They are in ink on his left arm.
A few weeks ago, Morton got his mother’s permission to get his first tattoo. Morton had been thinking long and hard about a tattoo that symbolized what was dear to his heart and meant the world to him.
40 51 50.76N / 79 55 1.56W
Those are the coordinates — longitude and latitude — of Butler High School. The numbers are tattooed on the inside of Morton’s left forearm.
One might ask what in the name of permanent ink makes a 19-year-old gets his high school tattooed onto his body? But Morton’s tattoo says it’s all about his love for his team, school, community and town.
And the feeling is mutual.
The player that Morton was, the attention he brought to Butler High School this year, the manner he carried himself and the way he endeared himself to Butler made Morton that unusual high school athlete who became revered in his community. For example, Butler basketball coach Matt Clement got a few requests in the past year or so from parents who asked if Morton could make an appearance at their son’s birthday party. After home games, youngsters would wait in the gym for Morton’s autograph. People sent him requests for signed pictures. A group of guys who were regulars at a Panera Bread in Butler would always want to talk when Morton appeared in the joint.
Morton morphed into a favorite son of Butler — and then some.
“My daughter is in the same grade as Ethan. I would say he became a little folk hero up here,” Butler athletic director Bill Mylan said.
To the Post-Gazette, Morton is being called Male Athlete of the Year.
Morton is the winner of this year’s award, which takes into consideration all athletes in the WPIAL and City League in the 2019-20 school year. This is the 41st year of the prestigious award and among the former winners, male and female, have been first-round NFL draft picks, Olympic gold medalists, MLB first-round picks, Major League Baseball players, WNBA players and an NBA player.
This year’s winner is a 6-foot-6 point guard who led Butler to a WPIAL championship for the first time in 29 years. All through school, Morton had his goals in dry-erase pen on a mirror near his bedroom in the family home. It’s safe to say he reached most of those goals. He averaged almost a triple-double, made the Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 for the third time, first-team all-state for the third time and was voted one of the top 10 WPIAL players in the past 40 years. And by the way, Morton had a 4.0 grade-point average in the classroom.
Morton will be playing at Purdue University next season but will forever have Butler in his heart — and on his arm.
“Some people might think it’s crazy. Why would you get your high school tattooed on your arm?” Morton said. “But just because everything the team accomplished, the memories from four years of high school, the friends, teachers and community … this tattoo kind of captures everything for me. I’ll just always have something to remind me that this is always home for me and this place has the best people in the world.”
Is this kid for real? Clement should know. He’s also one of Butler’s favorite sons, a 1993 Butler graduate who became a pitcher in the major leagues.
“People who might like to be critical might think Ethan is acting or think it’s a show what he says,” Clement said. “But I’m telling you it’s genuine from him. I don’t know if there are high school kids like him.”
You could say only a few basketball players in the WPIAL over the past 40 years are like Morton. In the spring, the Post-Gazette ran a top 20 team of the best players in the WPIAL and City League in the past 40 years. The team was voted on by current and former coaches and media members. Morton was voted the No. 8 player.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call Morton one of the most accomplished players in the WPIAL in the past few decades. You’ll have trouble finding players in WPIAL history who go for 2,000, 900, 600 and 100 in a career. He had 2,198 points (tied for 20th in WPIAL history), 912 rebounds, 682 assists and 138 blocks.
But this season was undoubtedly the most memorable, with Butler winning a WPIAL Class 6A championship, something Morton had craved the most in his career. How Butler and Morton did it made it even more special.
A classic game. End first OT Peters Township ahead by two. Missed free throw and then this from Ethan Morton. Then Butler wins 78-76 in two OT. The Ethan Morton legacy grows.
• In the WPIAL quarterfinals, Butler trailed Peters Township by five points with 25 seconds remaining. But the Golden Tornado came back, Morton hit a buzzer beater in the first overtime and Butler won in double OT.
• In the WPIAL semifinals, Butler trailed Upper St. Clair by five with less than 40 seconds left but forced overtime and won.
• After beating Mt. Lebanon in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, Butler trailed Central Dauphin by five with 30 seconds left in a PIAA first-round game but forced overtime and won.
• In the PIAA second round, Butler trailed Upper St. Clair by 12 points in the fourth quarter but came back and won.
“I know it’s a cliché, but if that’s not a magical run, then what is?” Morton said.
Butler superstar and Purdue recruit Ethan Morton gets mobbed by his teammates at midcourt as he caps off his incredible career with a WPIAL Class 6A title. The Golden Tornado beat Mt. Lebanon in a rematch of last year’s title game, 70-61:
For the season, Morton averaged 22.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks. He shot 56% from the field and 81% from the free-throw line.
“This was the most challenging season I had. Everyone thought it was easy, but it was not,” Morton said. “But these memories I’ll never forget. I mean half of the town was in Oakland (at Petersen Events Center) the night we won the WPIAL. I get emotional sometimes just thinking about that and what it did for the community.”
The only thing that eventually stopped Morton and Butler was COVID-19. Butler qualified for the PIAA quarterfinals when the pandemic forced the PIAA to stop the tournament. Morton and Butler might always think ‘What if?’ But they ended the season on a 17-game winning streak.
“Maybe the first line in my bio,” Morton said, “will always be ‘Ethan Morton, from Butler, Pa., and he always truly cared about the people in his town.’ Those people know who they are. Maybe I will be remembered as someone who tried to do things the right way. If I would’ve grown up at any other school, it wouldn’t have been the same.”
Mylan said, “He’s so refreshing in these days where it’s about me with a lot of kids. Honestly, I can say he’s by far the most genuine, well-rounded athlete I’ve ever been around.”
Maybe Clement summed up Morton best.
“I hope maybe someday there comes along players who might be as good or better than Ethan,” Clement said. “Maybe there will be someone who scores 4,000 points at Butler. But as far as the whole package as a player and person, there will never be anyone like him.”
Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @mwhiteburgh
First Published June 13, 2020, 8:00am