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Former Trail Blazer ready to take UP basketball to greater heights

COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - The familiar face of former Trail Blazers star Terry Porter will be seen on the sidelines at the University of Portland this season as he takes over as coach of the Pilots.When Terry Porter was hired to replace Eric Reveno as men’s basketball coach at the University of Portland last April, forward Gabe Taylor had one thought: “Oh, my parents are going to be so happy.”

“They love him,” Taylor says. “Everyone in Portland loves him. He’s a rock star around here.”

Trouble is, Tom Petty works well on a concert stage, but not so well on a basketball court.

So Porter’s status as the City of Rose’s favorite son gets him a chai latte at Starbucks, as long as he is willing to pay the $4.45 tab.

The Porter era officially begins Friday night at Chiles Center when the Pilots play host to Cal Riverside.

There’s a buzz around Portland basketball that may be unprecedented due to the presence of Porter, the long-time Trail Blazer guard and two-time NBA head coach (Milwaukee, Phoenix). The two-time All-Star feels he can help the Pilots — who were 12-20 last season, including 6-12 in West Coast Conference play — upgrade the program. At the same time, this coaching opportunity presents him his next career challenge.

“It’s a win-win,” says Porter, 53. “UP Nation and the community have been trying to get a bigger platform in Portland. Having me as coach helps that. More importantly, we’re trying to build this program that has had some struggles. We’re trying to get it to the point where it’s being talked about as being one of the better programs in this conference.

“We know the heavy lifting involved in that. We know we have to go out and get recruits who can come in and help.”

In the meantime, Porter will try to win this season with a veteran club that returns six of the top eight scorers from a year ago. Those returnees are led by all-WCC point guard Alec Wintering, a 6-foot senior who averaged 18.3 points and 4.9 assists as a junior, shooting .444 from the field, .398 from 3-point range and .780 from the foul line.

“The good thing for me is, you take over a program and you have Alec,” Porter says. “The guy is just going to be tremendous for us with his talent and leadership skills. He has done a great job already of grasping the system we’ve implemented. He has been a joy to work with. He’s such a hard-working kid. You can run things through him and let him dictate a lot of things on the floor.”COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND - Senior point guard Alec Wintering (left) is the key returning player for new coach Terry Porter as the Portland Pilots prepare for Friday's season opener.

Also back are D’marques Tyson, a 6-5 junior who was the No. 3 scorer (10.4) last season, and Taylor, a 6-8 junior who started all 32 games a year ago. Other key returnees include 6-6 senior Jarrell Marshall, 5-10 sophomore Jazz Johnson and centers Ray Barreno and Philipp Hartwich.

“The guys coming back will get a chance for more minutes, and they’re going to be asked to take a bigger role,” Porter says.

Porter is intrigued with the potential of Hartwich, a 7-1 junior from Germany who played sparingly as a sophomore.

“His development has come leaps and bounds from when we started,” Porter says. “He has good size and runs the floor pretty well for a big man. His skill development needs to improve, and he needs to get stronger, but he’ll rebound and block shots for us.”

Two other squad members are familiar to the coach — brothers Franklin and Malcolm Porter, the coach’s kids. Franklin is a 6-3 sophomore transfer from Saint Mary’s who will sit out the season, then have three seasons of eligibility. Malcolm is a 6-3 true freshman from Jesuit who will likely redshirt.

“For any father who has the opportunity to coach his kid in college, it’s going to be a life memory,” Terry Porter says. “I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. There have been people I know who have done it, and it’s not all easy for them to deal with. A lot of times, the fan base is harder on the coaches’ kids than the regular kids. That could be especially true in this market, when their last name is Porter. At times they will get frustrated, but at other times they’ll say what a special time it was to be coached by your dad, and help build something.

“The true challenge is when we start playing games and minutes are distributed. Right now, their teammates are looking at how I coach them, teach them, punish them compared to everybody else. There’s always a fine line.”

Then there is the test that will come next season, when the Porter kids are suiting up for games.

“Once the minutes come into play, I’m going to have the long, hard drive home after games with my wife (Susie) in the passenger seat,” the coach says with a laugh.

One member of Porter’s initial recruiting class — 6-foot guard Andre Ferguson out of Los Angeles — will likely be in the rotation. Another, 6-10 Joseph Smoyer from Franklin High, might redshirt.

“But we’re pretty thin with our bigs,” Porter says. “Joseph has to gain some muscle mass, but he is very skilled. We’ll see if we need him this year.”

Porter expects to employ a medium-paced, open style of offense, with a lot of pick-and-rolls and ball and body movement.

“We won’t be totally up and down,” he says. “Ideally, I’d like to be in that 70- to 80-point range. We’ll utilize the 3-point shot. On defense, we’ll play primarily man-to-man, and extend to halfcourt or three-quarter defenses to use our quickness at times to trap and get some turnovers.”

This is Porter’s first stab at coaching at the college level.

“It’s a lot different,” he says. “There are more demands on you in the college ranks. You have the campus life, coaches of other sports, academics, fundraising events, alumni functions and friends of the program. There are a lot more people you have to maintain relationships with, to make sure your program has the type of resources it needs to recruit.

“I enjoy people. I enjoy talking about basketball. The whole process has made me very excited about this job and the possibilities of this program, the opportunity to teach and be around kids and share my life story. I hope it will resonate with a lot of the young men we work with moving forward.”

Porter will sell basketball, and he’ll sell academics.

“This university offers an extremely high-rate education,” he says. “When a kid leaves here after four or five years, he can be proud of that paper that says, ‘University of Portland degree.’ Over the last 10 years of our program, we’ve had 100 percent graduation rate. Much is expected academically from our student-athletes, but we also make sure they have a lot of resources available to succeed in their studies. We get kids who are a good fit for The Bluff, and make sure they can get their degree.”

The Pilots have three scholarships available for their 2017 recruiting class. Already committed is JoJo Walker, a 6-1 point guard from Orcutt, California, who was CIF Division 5A Most Valuable Player as a junior, averaging 19 points and five assists. Porter wants to add a big man and a wing to the class.

The current players have taken to their new coach.

“He’s an NBA veteran, and his basketball knowledge is out of this world,” Tyson says. “I’ve been learning a lot every day. He plays to what we need. If we need him to be hard on us, he’ll be hard on us. Otherwise, he trusts us to police ourselves.”

Says Taylor: “It’s really exciting to have him on staff. He brings a different edge to the program that we haven’t had in the past. It’s really going to benefit us, now and in the future.”

The Pilots were picked by coaches to finish eighth in the 10-team WCC, but Porter is setting standards high from the beginning.

“I want to see our guys compete every night and be in games,” he says. “I don’t know if I have a number (of desired wins). I want to finish in the top portion of our conference. Our homecourt advantage has to be huge, and we have to do a much better job being a solid team on the road.”

The preseason schedule is daunting, with three Pac-12 opponents — Colorado, UCLA and Oregon State — along with Boise State and either Nebraska or Dayton.

“We’re going to have as tough a preseason schedule as there is on the West Coast,” Porter says. “The important thing is to evaluate our guys, but you want to win some games, too, to gain some confidence. If you keep losing, it’s difficult.

“We just have to take the challenge. The early schedule is going to make us tougher down the road and prepare us for (conferences opponents such as) Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and BYU.”

keggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers

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