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Pilots mostly new as journey begins in earnest
Hey, Josh McSwiggan.
Nice of the Portland Pilots to schedule a trip to London just for you, eh?
"Nice coincidence," smiled the 6-7, 200-pound forward after helping the White team to a 70-66 over the Purple shirts in a send-off scrimmage Thursday night at Chiles Center.
The Pilots leave Saturday on a 10-day excursion to England, which means a homecoming for British native McSwiggan.
"It will be the first time my family has seen me play in about three years, so it's a privilege," said McSwiggan, a member of Terry Porter's hallowed second recruiting class that one scouting services ranks as the 10th best in NCAA Division I.
McSwiggan took a circuitous route to The Bluff, landing first in El Paso, Texas, where he redshirted his one year at UTEP.
"Didn't feel it was the right fit for me," said McSwiggan, who transferred to Casper (Wyoming) College last season, averaging 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Thunderbirds, who went 24-9.
McSwiggan drew recruiting interest from such schools as Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma and Fresno State, "but I always felt Portland was the place for me," he said.
"It has a great environment," McSwiggan said. "I believe in the coaching staff. I believe in the players here, and especially the recruiting class coming in. It's a great group."
McSwiggan — who reminds of former Jesuit High star and long-time NBA player Mike Dunleavy — will play right away with Portland, and perhaps out of position at power forward for the guard-heavy Pilots.
"I've mixed around quite a bit during my time playing basketball," said McSwiggan, who collected 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists with no turnovers and also knocked down four 3-pointers in 39 productive minutes. "I've played shooting guard, but because of my size, I've played a lot of power forward as well. Whatever is needed to help our team out."
Said Porter: "Josh will be an impact player for us."
Porter has almost completely turned over his roster after going 11-22 overall and 2-16 in West Coast Conference play during his maiden season. Four players return, including only one of the Pilots' top six scorers.
Starting center Philipp Hartwich is back, but the 7-1 German averaged only 1.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a year ago. He'll be an important weapon next season, and he'll be an improved product, if Thursday's scrimmage is any indication. Hartwich scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting, grabbed 20 rebounds and blocked four shots for the Purple squad.
"It's great to see him do that," Porter said. "He's the 'X factor' for us, if we can get him to go out and play at that level every night."
Junior guard Rashad Jackson, a part-time starter last season, had a big game Thursday with 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
The other returning part-time starter, 6-5 senior D'Marques Tyson, experienced a dreadful shooting night, going 3 for 18 — including 0 for 11 in the first half.
"D'Marques has been shooting well in practice," Porter said. "He has days where he can light it up."
Jackson and Tyson will have plenty of competition for playing time from the new players, including a couple of them who were on campus last season but redshirted — Franklin and Malcolm Porter, the coach's sons.
Franklin, a 6-4 sophomore who transferred after a freshman season at Saint Mary's, was the best player on the floor Thursday night, bombing in 27 points with four rebounds and four assists in leading the White shirts to victory.
Malcolm, a 6-4 redshirt freshman who played at Jesuit High, had a productive game, too. Franklin's younger brother finished with 17 points, seven boards and five assists despite an 8-for-23 shooting game — 0 for 5 from 3-point range.
Franklin, a shooting guard who can also play some small forward, has a nice perimeter shot and will be hard to keep out of the starting lineup. Malcolm, a point guard who can play some at the 2 spot, is terrific at getting to the basket and has an excellent floater in the key, but struggles with his outside shot.
Two other freshmen will challenge for time at the point — 6-2 Marcus Shaver from Phoenix and 6-1 JoJo Walker from Santa Maria, California.
Shaver had a horrendous shooting game, going 5 for 24, including 1 for 9 on 3-point attempts. But he's a blur going to the basket, and he'll shoot better from the perimeter once he gets accustomed to the speed of the college game.
Walker sat out the scrimmage with a sprained ankle, but the senior Porter expects him to play at some point on the Pilots' four-game junket in England.
"All three of our freshman point guards can get to the rim," the UP coach said. "In open space and pick-and-roll situations, if we do a good enough job of spacing and knocking down shots, we're going to have opportunities to play downhill. Our perimeter shooters are going to get a chance to shoot 3's on drive-and-kicks, and our bigs will have to continue to catch and finish at the rim."
The Pilots' most highly rated recruit, 6-9, 210-pound freshman Tahirou Diabate of Japan, is an interesting player — a left-hander with a poor outside shot but good overall skills in other areas (think the Blazers' Ed Davis). Diabate was only 6 for 20 from the field but contributed 14 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks for the Purple squad.
"We're going to have a lot of versatility," Porter said. "We can play big; we can play small. We can definitely play small.
"In our conference, we're not going to run across a lot of big, powerful 4 men. If we play three guards and have Josh at the 4, we're going to be an up-tempo, open-court offensive team."
Once every four years, a Division I team is allowed to do an overseas tour. This is the Pilots' turn, and it comes at a great time for Porter.
"We've had the luxury of 10 days of practice before we leave," the former Trail Blazers guard said. "To have that is a blessing, especially with so many new guys.
"And it's an important team-building experience for us. We get hang out, work on camaraderie, and experience England, a place I've never been. We'll do a lot of sight-seeing and play some games, get a chance to compete. We have some fun things planned for the guys. It's going to be a plus for us."
Porter isn't expecting a quick turnaround from last season, when the Pilots won their first two WCC games, then dropped their final 16 — 12 of them after losing their best player, point guard Alec Wintering, for the season to injury.
"The challenge is getting the guys to all buy into a team-first philosophy," Porter said. "We have to make huge strides and try to climb. It's going to take a couple of years. We have a lot of freshmen. There are going to be growing pains. The game is going to be different for them.
"But we want to make some strides. We don't want to win two games in conference, I'll say that much. Is it going to be .500? I don't know what it's going to be, but the guys will grow. Offensively, I think we'll be fine. Defensively, we have to get better. Defense is going to make the difference for us."
McSwiggan is hoping to establish something on his homecoming trip that will carry over to next season.
"I'm one of the older guys, even though I'm only a sophomore," he said. "I have to become a leader and take a stick on my shoulders and boost the confidence of the younger guys, help them develop. And hopefully, I'll score a lot of points for us."