Freshman point guard Alec Wintering might be the best thing to happen to the University of Portland men's basketball program since T.J. Campbell roamed the Pilots' backcourt.

It's too soon to tell if Wintering will be good enough to help lead Portland back to West Coast Conference prominence, but he's being given the opportunity.

Pilots coach Eric Reveno rarely thrusts incoming freshmen into starting roles, but he's making an exception for Wintering. Why? Returning starting point guard David Carr is out with a concussion and Wintering has the attitude and the skills that most coaches look for in a point guard — a player who makes others around him better and on most nights does whatever it takes to give his team a chance to win.

"Great point guards are able to take what the defense gives them, even if that includes the point guard scoring," said Reveno, whose team opens the 2013-14 regular season Friday against UC Davis in a 7:30 p.m. game at the Chiles Center. "Whatever the defensive weakness is, the great ones find it.

"Alec likes making the right play and the right time. He has a certain charisma where you start to say, 'OK, he's got 'it' a little bit.' He's all about facilitating others and making the play that the defense gives him. And that's both an attitude and a skill set."

Comparisons to Campbell are inevitable. It's also no coincidence that parts of Wintering's game are reminiscent of the game that Campbell played when he was a two-time, All-WCC selection for the Pilots from 2008-10.

Wintering and Campbell both grew up in Phoenix and both attended Sunnyslope High School and played for coach Dan Mannix. Both are undersized guards — Wintering is listed at 5-foot-11, Campbell at 5-9 — and although the two are separated by six years, Campbell regularly worked at many of the summer youth camps that Wintering attended and they often found themselves playing together in pick-up games at the local gym.

"T.J. was like a big brother to me," Wintering said. "I'd ask him things, just about life, about basketball, about how to get better, about the drills he did… He was a lot of help to me."

When Campbell joined UP after two seasons at Glendale (Calif.) Community College, Wintering started paying attention to the Pilots.

"T.J. talked to me about Portland," Wintering said. "My freshman year at Sunnyslope, I remember watching the Pilots and I remember they were ranked in the top 25. They'd beaten some big schools, so I was like, 'Yeah, that's a good program.'"

As Wintering started taking an interest in the Pilots, the Pilots started taking an interest in Wintering.

Joel Sobotka, who was still on the Pilots' coaching staff and still in charge of scouting the Phoenix area at that time, said Mannix was the first to suggest he take a look at Wintering.

"Around the time we signed T.J., Coach Mannix said, 'Hey, I've got another point guard that I think is going to be pretty special. You guys might want to keep some tabs on this one,' " said Sobotka, now the athletic director and boys' basketball coach at Beaverton's Valley Catholic High School. "So, we did."  

After his freshman year, Wintering moved to Concord, N.C, where he first attended Cannon School and later transferred to United Faith Christian Academy. While at United Faith, he played for Muggsy Bogues, the former NBA point guard who played 14 years as a pro and who at 5-3 is the shortest player to ever play in the NBA.

 "Coach Bogues helped me a lot with my game," Wintering said. "He was a big influence in terms of me becoming a better vocal leader, talking to my teammates, making sure everybody was doing the right thing at the right time, and staying positive with the guys. That, and playing defense. He was big on playing defense, too."

All the time Wintering was in North Carolina, the Pilots stayed in contact.

"It's all about relationship building and information, making sure the kids are taking the right high school classes and putting themselves on a good academic track," Reveno said. "That's part of the process early on with a lot of kids.

"Sometimes it sticks. Sometimes it doesn't. With Alec, it stuck, because we piqued his interest, he wasn't getting a lot of information from other schools, and it helped that he knew T.J. Campbell."

Wintering also drew strong interest from Cornell, College of Charleston, and Florida International, but he committed to the school where he felt most comfortable.

"Because of the relationship I had with T.J. and with the Portland coaches … it just felt right," Wintering said.

The Pilots are counting on Wintering to give the offense a spark that has frankly been in need of a lift the past two seasons.

At times the offense was stagnant — problems that grew more tenuous after Carr tore his right ACL against Pepperdine on Jan. 5 and was lost for the final 15 games of the season.

Carr, the 6-3 junior from Central Catholic, was on track to rejoin the starting lineup this season until he suffered a concussion when he got elbowed in the head during a team scrimmage on Oct. 20. Carr has been sidelined ever since and there's still no timetable for his return, which also helped open the door for Wintering to play a more prominent role than had been expected.

"David was playing really well coming off his knee injury," Reveno said. "He's maybe not as quick as Alec could be in terms of creating offense, but as far as running a team, and shooting his shot, and having better size defensively, David is pretty good. So, it's a nice combination.

"If David was healthy, he would probably be starting. Alec's ready for it, but I'd protect him a little bit, both in terms of wanting to avoid giving him too much, too soon, and in terms of the new rules pertaining to hand-checking on defense and how fouls are being called."

When Reveno says "too much, too soon," he's talking about finding a healthy balance on the court as well as off the court and in the classroom.

"College basketball at our academic institution is a lot for a freshman," Reveno said. "The guys that are in their first year here, they've got to make the adjustment. Alec is on top of his school work, more or less, but all that stuff in December … putting in 10 games, while also taking 10 tests …

"Our job as coaches is to put players in position to be successful, and Alec's job isn't to bail us all out. So, I've got to watch that from a lot of different angles. And if we had David Carr, then it would give me a lot more cushion to sort of protect Alec.

"Well, now he's kind of exposed a little bit. I'm optimistic, and we all could be pleasantly surprised, but he still has to go out and do it."

Wintering, who plans to pursue a business degree with an emphasis in either accounting or marketing, is confident that his game is where it needs to be entering Friday's opener.

"First off, my role is to get other guys easy shots," Wintering said. "We have players here like Ryan Nicholas, Kevin Bailey and Thomas van der Mars who can score the ball. So I'm looking to create easy shots for the big men, taking shots when they're there for me, and not trying to force anything.

"I'll always look to pass first and get other guys involved, and then play off that."

His other strengths?

"Being vocal, being a leader, and pushing the ball," Wintering said. "I'm quick getting up and down the floor and finding teammates. And I'm able to put pressure on the opposing point guard and make him work."

Several of the WCC's marquee players are point guards, starting with Loyola Marymount's Anthony Ireland and Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos. Then there is San Diego's Christopher Anderson, BYU's Matt Carlino, San Francisco's Cody Doolin and Santa Clara's Evan Roquemore — all proven veterans, all capable of taking over a game if given the chance.

"I'm pretty confident," Wintering said. "I mean, I've gone up against good point guards in the past. When I played AAU ball, I played against Kasey Hill who is at Florida now, Solomon Poole who is at Georgia Tech, and Tyler Lewis at North Carolina State. So, I've played against good guards before."

Reveno envisions Wintering playing anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes a game, with sophomore Bryce Pressley penciled in as the backup, at least until Carr is cleared to practice, which could come as early as next week.

"I like Alec's feel for the game and his aptitude for picking stuff up," Reveno said. "We'd be doing a lot less with David hurt, but Alec is able to really understand things and get a feel for things.

"There was some slippage in the first exhibition game and the scrimmage (against Washington), in terms of Alec's ability to recognize some nuances, but he's getting them out here in practice. He just needs the game experience. There's nothing we're doing out here to knock him off his game. He's very composed for a freshman guard."

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