RIGHT ON TIME: Spartans' Carlton Dominates at Early Age
BEFORE SHE STARTED DOMINATING WHEREVER AND WHENEVER SHE WISHED ON THE BASKETBALL COURT, JUSTICE CARLTON WAS AN ASTUTE THINKER OF THE GAME.
Before the Seven Lakes sophomore's game developed to where she would be heralded as one of the best in her class, Carlton's mother, former Baylor star Kacy Moffitt, said her daughter could have coached.
At five years old.
"Her skills weren't there, but her IQ was there," Moffitt said. "She was seeing things at an advanced level. She just gets it. We might go over a post move once, and in the next game she'll have that post move down, plus a counter move that she's never used before."
Premier Basketball recently ranked the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Carlton No. 1 in the state for the Class of 2024. She was MVP of the prestigious Boo Williams tournament in Virginia last spring that kicked off the AAU season. Carlton, who already holds more than
20 scholarship offers from major DI schools, averaged 24 points and nine rebounds for Seven Lakes last season, earning all-region honors.
And she is only beginning to understand just how good she is.
"Justice is super strong and can out-power people, and then her first step, 15-feet extended, is incredible for her size. But last year, I thought she passed too much," Moffitt said. "Now she's starting to know when to take over. She's developing a little bit of swag."
Carlton said she's simply trying to take after mom.
"I try to pattern my game a lot after her, definitely," Carlton said. "My jump shot was so bad, so ugly when I first started. But I've tried to take my mom's jump shot, mid-range and shooting off the pass, as much as I can."
Carlton's size and skillset pose a unique conundrum that Moffitt is all too familiar with.
At the high school level, Carlton is typically the biggest player on the court, so Spartans coach Angela Spurlock uses her primarily in the post. But Carlton's ball-handling skills, mobility and agility belie her size.
When she attended the USA Basketball trials this summer, one of 32 players in the nation invited, Carlton realized she's not quite big enough to play on the blocks. However, girls who played away from the basket did not have her size.
"That was the realization that I probably couldn't just focus on being a post anymore," Carlton said.
So, Carlton started transitioning more to playing forward. With her Cy-Fair EYBL AAU team, Carlton learned how to hoop. With the Spartans, Carlton learned how to play basketball.
Proper footwork. Jump stops. Drop-steps. Using the glass on shots. Defending the pick-and-roll.
"I had never learned to do things like box out and how to pin. I learned that in high school," Carlton said. "I was just out-jumping girls in AAU. In high school, I couldn't just run and shoot off the dribble anymore. AAU is running around and scoring in transition. In high school, I was having to post up and rebound and play defense. It was a crazy, hard adjustment."
If there's anyone who understands, it's Moffitt.
At 6-foot-5 and 160 pounds, Moffitt was a rangy, athletic center for Baylor from 1995- 1999, as comfortable on the perimeter handling the ball as she was blocking shots and rebounding.
She finished 13th all-time at Baylor in scoring and seventh in blocks, but never found a fit professionally.
"People just couldn't figure out what to do with me," said Moffitt, now a teacher and coach at Adams Junior High in Katy. "I played in the WNBA and tried out with Washington, was with Detroit for a little bit, Miami for a little bit. They were like, 'we just need you to be bigger.' And here I was thinking, 'I can do all of this stuff, and the big girls can't guard me, and when you put a guard on me, I'll take it to the block.'
"It was extremely frustrating."
Moffitt is ensuring Carlton avoids the same fate.
She encourages Carlton to play free and open, to explore and seek, to use every ounce of her talent.
Carlton, meanwhile, takes it all in stride. As competitive and focused as she is on the court, Carlton is laid back and care-free off it.
She is mature beyond her years. Carlton does not post scholarship offers to her social media, telling Moffitt it is an "unnecessary low-key flex". She took high school courses in junior high so that she can take college courses and plan towards her major in high school.
But Carlton also has the playfulness of a sophomore. Arguably her biggest accomplishment last season may have been getting the no-nonsense Spurlock to pose with her for an "ice in my veins" photo at the team's postseason banquet.
No matter what position she's playing, Carlton's only focus right now is shattering Seven Lakes' all-time scoring record.
"My coach is letting me play more open and freely, which I'm loving," she said. "I'm really excited to see how I'm about to play with these girls this year."
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