Young Pilots' progress will take time
Division I basketball coaches are judged by wins and losses, and so far, Terry Porter's numbers don't indicate a lot of progress.
Porter's Portland Pilots are 6-13 overall and 0-6 in West Coast Conference play after Saturday's 66-54 home loss to Damon Stoudamire's Pacific Tigers.
In Porter's first season on The Bluff, the Pilots went 11-22, struggling through the second half of the season after losing senior point guard Alec Wintering to injury.
The former Trail Blazers great brought in eight recruits to join redshirt sons Franklin and Malcolm Porter and holdovers Philipp Hartwich, D'Marques Tyson and Joseph Smoyer.
Hartwich and Tyson, both seniors, are the only players with significant D-1 experience, and the results thus far have shown it's a cast not yet ready for prime-time play this season.
"Our guys are working hard," Terry Porter said after the loss to Pacific. "We have young guys, and we haven't been winning close games. That would change things a lot. There were two or three games in conference where we were right there and our youth hurt us."
The Pilots have been blown out in three of their WCC defeats — 69-45 to Brigham Young, 84-61 to San Francisco and 103-57 to Gonzaga. They were close in an 81-74 overtime loss to San Diego and a 70-68 setback to Santa Clara.
Portland starts a pair of freshmen — 6-1 point guard JoJo Walker from Puerto Rico and 6-9 power forward Tahirou Diabate from Japan — along with the 7-2 Hartwich, 6-4 sophomore Franklin Porter and 6-7 small forward Josh McSwiggan from England.
Hartwich — the school record-holder for career blocked shots — is an outstanding rebounder and defender who had 16 boards against Pacific. He has little offensive game, though, and not much help from teammates to provide an offensive post presence.
"We don't have the interior offensive punch we need," Porter said. "Phil has had some growth, but he needs to continue to get better in that area."
The Pilots shot only .388 from the field, including 5 for 24 from 3-point range, yet hung in with Pacific for more than a half. Malcolm Porter's 3 from just shy of midcourt as the buzzer sounded brought Portland to within 31-29 at intermission. The Tigers used a 13-2 run to forge a 44-33 lead early in the second, and the Pilots got no closer than four points the rest of the way.
"We struggled to score," Porter said. "We just didn't get in a good rhythm offensively. We did a good job defensively. It was good enough to win."
Portland is tied with Pepperdine at the bottom of the WCC, and Terry Porter will depend on development from his young players to make a move up the standings the rest of the season.
McSwiggan — who reminds much of Mike Dunleavy Jr. in his game and the way he carries himself on the court — came into the game shooting .476 from 3-point range but was off target against Pacific, finishing with five points and going 0 for 5 from behind the 3-point line in his 37 minutes.
Point guards Walker and Marcus Shaver Jr. — the latter a 6-2 freshman — have plenty of get up and go and work hard at the defensive end, but must improve their perimeter shot.
The Porter brothers — Franklin a sophomore, Malcolm a freshman — are strong and excellent with the drive to the basket, but also lack proficiency from range.
The Pilots will lose only Hartwich and Tyson — the latter a 6-5 guard who was 4 for 6 on 3-pointers and led his team with 14 points against Pacific — after this season. They have signed Josh Phillips, a 6-8, 190-pound prep senior from Huntington Beach, California, as an incoming freshman next season, and have one more scholarship to give.
A dozen more WCC games, along with the conference tournament, remain on Portland's schedule. Wins will be difficult to come by. Terry Porter is going to require patience, and he'll need his players to show some, too, as they battle through the adversity they'll continue to face the rest of this season.
"I'm pleased with the effort we're getting," the UP coach said. "The challenge for us is to continue to get better and to eliminate some of the mistakes when you have youth and guys who haven't played a lot of Division I basketball. We have to keep working so we can execute better and get wins."