Pilots look to turn 6-30 WCC record into .500 season
The University of Portland Pilots have won only one-third of their men's basketball games in the first two seasons under Terry Porter.
Still, the popular former Trail Blazers guard believes the program is on a good trajectory.
"I'm really excited about taking that next step next year," Porter says, pointing to a .500 record as a reasonable goal for a team that figures to again be among the youngest in the West Coast Conference.
"We're still young, so there's going to be some growing pains," Porter says. "But we should be able to take that next step and have a little bit more maturity about the way we play, have a physicality, and gradually we should be learning how to play with each other."
The process will continue with summer workouts — a recent change to NCAA rules doubles the time college coaches can work with their players to four hours each week.
"Our (summer) workouts include talking about things that happened last year and trying to build their bodies and get them to the point where they know what they need to work on and make sure they're doing it every day, even if we're not around," Porter says, adding that "all our guys need to get stronger and bigger."
A roster overhaul that included a highly-regarded 2017 recruiting class has added speed, athletic ability and physicality.
Porter and his staff — assistants Bob Cantu and Ben Johnson have reputations as successful recruiters — made finding players who can defend the rim a priority this recruiting cycle.
Last month, the Pilots announced the addition of one of the top high school shot blockers in the country in 6-10 Theo Akwuba from Montgomery, Alabama.
Another recent addition is 7-foot Jacob Tryon, a junior college transfer with three years of eligibility remaining. Despite his size, Tryon can stretch defenses with his offensive range, according to Porter.
Josh Phillips, an athletic 6-8 post from Huntington Beach, California, signed with Portland in November.
Those three join four key players who redshirted this season as additions to a program that graduated only two players from the 2017-18 team: 7-2 post Philipp Hartwich and guard D'Marques Tyson.
Players who redshirted this season were 6-4 guard Crisshawn Clark, 6-6 guard Takiwla Fahrensohn, 6-9 forward Hugh Hogland and 6-2 guard Xavier Hallinan, from Central Catholic High.
At the core of the Pilots' future are young players who gained valuable, if sometimes difficult, experience this season.
That included Marcus Shaver Jr., who was named to the WCC all-freshmen team and was honorable mention all-conference after leading Portland in scoring (12.3 points per game). Shaver and JoJo Walker had significant time handling the ball as true freshmen this season.
"Those guards have been so blessed to be able to get quality game time as freshmen. It's something in terms of the big picture and their growth, it's huge in the process," Porter says.
Porter's sons also will be back on the team. Franklin Porter will be a redshirt junior and Malcolm Porter a redshirt sophomore. Franklin finished third on the team in scoring last season.
Terry Porter points to ballhandling as one area where both of his sons and the other young Pilots can improve.
Individual defense is something all of the Pilots must get better at, too, the coach says.
"For all of our guys, the perimeter is an area we've got to do a much better job of guarding. Keeping the ball in front and taking that challenge," Porter says. "That was something we did not do as good of a job as I think we're capable of."
Josh McSwiggan averaged 10.9 points per game in his first season as a Pilot. Preparing for his redshirt junior season, the goal is for the 6-7 forward from England to become better at taking the ball to the basket, as well as in rebounding and defending.
When it comes to rebounding and defending, figure Portland will look to Tahirou Diabate to be a tone-setter. As a freshman last season, the 6-9 native of Mali was second on the team in rebounds and blocked shots while at times demonstrating offensive ability around the basket.
Of the players who redshirted, Clark might be most ready to make an impact. A 6-4 guard who last played as a junior college freshman in 2015-16, Clark transferred to Portland after a knee injury cost him his one season at Pittsburgh. Porter says Clark can play multiple positions at both ends of the court and will be counted on for leadership as a redshirt junior.
Among the others who redshirted this season, the 6-9 Hogland is one of Portland's more polished post scorers, and Fahrensohn is a shooter. Porter says Hogland and Fahrensohn need to get stronger and, like most freshmen, will need time to adjust to the college game.
Porter says the talent on the roster continues to improve.
"We have physicality. When we looked at our roster, we talked about speed on the perimeter, I think we've got that. We've got some skill guys," the coach says.
"Do we have a lot of size? I think that's an area we have to continue to try to develop and get better."
Culture, the word coaches use to describe the buy-in of their players, is more established two years after Porter was hired and made "character, dedication, sacrifice, unity and family" the pillars of his program.
On the floor, his vision is a program known for hard-nosed defense and unselfish offense that values each possession.
"Now we have to start turning this to get more of a winning spirit. That's going to be our next step. Getting our guys more confident," Porter says. "That comes with winning, obviously. But more importantly (winning spirit) comes from the process of taking your hits and taking your lumps when you're young."
With a 6-30 record in WCC play the past two seasons, the Pilots have experienced lumps. Portland lost its final seven games last season, including a WCC tournament defeat to a Loyola Marymount team the Pilots beat twice.
Porter points to consecutive conference road wins at San Diego and LMU over a January weekend as evidence of progress.
"We did some really good things this last year that I think are going to allow guys to understand we're on the rise," he says, "and when we play the right way and everybody's locked in, we can play with anybody in our conference."
The Pilots have not finalized their 2018-19 schedule, but Portland is expected to participate in the Rainbow Classic in Hawai'i and play host to a four-team tournament at the Chiles Center.
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