BURBANK — Tyler Newton was well into his second year of high school, and the question still nagged at him.
Why wasn't he taller?
When Newton was born, the doctor told his mother he would be 6 feet 5, maybe 6-6.
But as Newton approached the end of his sophomore year at Burroughs High, he was 6-1 and weighed about 130 pounds.
Turns out the doctor was wrong. He underestimated Newton's height.
In the last two years, Newton, a senior, has grown eight inches to 6-9. He remains thin at 185 pounds, but his growth has been dramatic, both physically and in terms of his basketball ability.
He averaged eight points and six rebounds last season on the junior varsity team, not exactly the type of numbers that forecast greatness.
This season has been a different story. Newton is averaging 15 points and 13.2 rebounds in his first varsity season.
One of the region's most improved players, Newton helped lead Burroughs (17-6, 8-2 in league play) to the Foothill League title.
Newton is focusing on the immediate future--the Indians host Anaheim Servite in the first round of the Southern Section Division II-A playoffs Friday night--but the key to his success can be traced to the recent past.
Last summer, he played on the ARC Dynamos, a traveling team that played in several all-star tournaments. His competition was infinitely bigger and better than he experienced in three years of junior varsity basketball.
These guys had superior low-post moves. They dunked at will. They were fast and agile on defense. Well aware of the survival-of-the-fittest concept, Newton began to adapt.
He improved his footwork and developed moves, including a jump hook. And he learned the importance of position on defense.
"It's not always about how big you are and whether you can push somebody out," Newton said. "It's about getting position and knowing where the ball's going to come off the rim."
He came back to Burroughs a different player, showing coordination and skills that had eluded him because of his tremendous growth spurt.
"Every time he put on a couple inches, he'd lose his coordination," Burroughs Coach Art Sullivan said. "He'd learn skills and then grow right out of them. Now he's maintaining his height and he's getting comfortable with the body he's had. I'd sure like to have him another year."
Said Newton: "I was kind of awkward. I didn't really have the game. I'm pretty surprised about how good I'm doing now. I worked real hard, from not knowing anything of the game as a freshman, to where I am now."
His opponents have noticed. Newton had 31 points and 24 rebounds in a double-overtime victory over Burbank. He had 31 points and 17 rebounds in a victory over Valencia.
Just as important, Newton is willing to defer to teammate Keith Jarbo, who leads the Indians in scoring and twice set the school record for shooting percentage in a game.
"He doesn't beg," Sullivan said of Newton. "He sets his screens and does his job. He doesn't cry when he doesn't get the ball. He's very team-oriented."
It's an attitude that has served Newton off the court as well.
"Whoever's on varsity pretty much gets all the attention from everybody, from teachers and all the students," Newton said. "Now that I'm on varsity, everyone's recognizing me. People see you in the paper. They come up and talk to you."
They see Newton as a different person now.
"I'm not just the tall kid anymore," he said.