PSU, UP men's basketball going in different directions?
It was a tale of two seasons with the city of Portland's two Division I men's basketball programs this year.
In the Park Blocks, there's some excitement and optimism for the future.
On the Bluff? The mood is of apprehension and discontent.
Barret Peery didn't duplicate the 20-win season he posted in his first go-round as Portland State's coach in 2017-18. But the Vikings rebounded after a slow start to finish 16-16 overall and 11-9 and tied for fourth in the Big Sky standings. They were 20-14 and 9-9 (tied for sixth) the previous year.
Terry Porter had a different kind of season in his third year as University of Portland coach. The Pilots were 7-25 overall and 0-16 in West Coast Conference play. It was the program's worst record since 2001-02, when the Pilots finished 6-24, and their first time ever with a winless conference record.
Portland State was 6-11 before settling in and closing strong. The Vikings won seven of their last eight regular-season games, knocking off Big Sky champion Montana 81-69 at home the final weekend. The only loss over that period for the Vikings was 68-66 at Eastern Washington. Six of the eight games were at home. But PSU lost 81-71 to Weber State in the first round of the conference tournament.
"It was an up-and-down season," says Peery, who turned 48 on Wednesday. "The middle of the season was down. The end (of the regular season) was really good. It was a credit to the character of our guys. We could have lost the team a little bit if it was the wrong group of people.
"The schedule turned to where we had a lot of home games. We won our last eight at home, swept (two games from) Montana and showed that our guys had it."
Playing for the first time in the new Viking Pavilion, Portland State was 12-4 at home but only 3-10 on the road. The Vikings enjoyed three home crowds of more than 2,000, averaged 1,238 and more than doubled the 2017-18 average of 607 from the previous season, when home games were at Lewis & Clark.
"It's great to have a home, and it paid us back this year," Peery says. "It was loud, and the guys were excited to play home games. Last year, that wasn't the case."
Peery's teams maintain a torrid pace on offense, crash the offensive glass and pressure on defense. The Vikings led the nation in offensive rebounds per game (15.6), forced 15 turnovers ("our goal is 20; I'd like to see us be in the 17 to 18 range," he says) and led the Big Sky with 8.3 steals per contest. They didn't shoot or defend well in the halfcourt, though. PSU shot .424 from the field and .309 from 3-point range; opponents shot .463 and .347.
"We need more shooting," Peery says. "That's been the emphasis in recruiting."
Point guard Holland "Boo Boo" Woods, second-team all-Big Sky as a sophomore this season, led PSU in scoring at 15.0 points per game, but shot only .398 from the field and .286 from 3-point range.
"He had to take some tough shots and carry the load more than I would like," Peery says. "Not only does he have to shoot a lot, but he has to handle the ball a lot. He'll be our quarterback again next year, but my biggest goal is to add a piece or two, where he doesn't have to make plays through the paint every single time."
PSU will return three starters — Woods and a pair of seniors-to-be, 6-8 post Sal Nuhu and 6-7 forward Robert McCoy. Nuhu led the Big Sky in blocks at 2.0 per game, "and I think he can be an all-conference guy for us," Peery says.
The Vikings had eight new players from the previous season, "which was challenging," the coach says. "It will be different next season. We have 70 percent of our scoring and rebounding coming back. We're going to be real picky about who we sign because of that."
Peery, who has interviewed for the vacant head coaching job at BYU, is high on 6-9 Trey Woods, who redshirted as a freshman, and 6-5 junior guard Juwan Williams, whom the coach hopes will get a medical redshirt season after playing only 14 games this season. The Vikings have so far signed only one player, 5-9 point guard Jaden Nielsen-Skinner out of South Salem.
"Jaden fits us," Peery says. "He's a ball-playing dude, a kid who is passionate about playing the game. He really excites me. He can score and is quick — he has a fifth gear. We took the right guy in the state, for sure."
Peery has two scholarships to give and is looking at graduate and JC transfers who can play on the wing.
"We're very much in the perimeter market," he says.
Peery expects to have a team that will contend for the Big Sky championship next season.
"I'll be very disappointed if we don't contend," he says. "We can be a 20-win team again. We feel like we're just getting started, with the new arena and what we have coming back. The future is very bright."
The outlook is more murky across town, where Porter's third season at the UP helm was a disaster. The Pilots, who listed no seniors on their roster, shot only .414 from the field, .325 from 3-point territory and .671 from the foul line. They averaged 64.9 points, gave up 74.7 and were outrebounded by 5.2 per game. Only five of 17 losses to WCC foes came by single digits.
"In terms of wins and losses, it wasn't what we expected, that's for sure," says Porter, the former Trail Blazers great who turns 56 on Monday. "We didn't think we'd not win a conference game. We were competitive in quite a few games, but weren't able to close those games out. It's still a process, learning how to finish games in the right way."
Porter has had a problem with players transferring from his program. Guard Jazz Johnson, the No. 2 scorer off his first UP team in 2016-17, transferred to Nevada and averaged 11.0 points off the Wolfpack bench as a junior this season. Center Joseph Smoyer, who played his first two seasons under Porter at UP, is now at Columbia.
The exodus continues this season. Shooting guard Marcus Shaver, the Pilots' leading scorer at 14.8 points per game as a sophomore this season, has put his name in the NCAA transfer portal.
"It was a surprise to me," Porter says. "It's unfortunate. I can't fight it. When you're trying to build a program, and invest in a young man, you don't ever want them to leave. The big movement in college basketball these days, though, is for students to want to go to a bigger stage and fulfill their dreams."
Junior guards Xavier Hallinan and Crisshawn Clark, who played sparingly, are also looking to transfer. The Pilots have learned that starting forward Josh McSwiggan, an English native, has no more eligibility, according to Porter.
And Porter's own son — Franklin, who started 19 games as a junior guard this season — is going to leave as a grad transfer.
"He is looking to get his masters (degree) and play another year somewhere," the UP coach says. "I'm fine with it. It's just part of the landscape of today's college sports. Once they get a degree, they have the option to look to grad transfer. It's always a challenge coaching your son, but I don't think that has anything to do with him wanting to go experience something different."
After a stellar 17-year career as a player, which included 10 seasons in Portland, Porter was twice a head coach with NBA teams — in Milwaukee (2003-05) and Phoenix (2008-09). This is his first experience working with college players, and he admits it has been a transition "in every way."
Porter, now 28-69 overall and 6-46 in WCC play in his three seasons at UP, has two years left on his contract. His job security is not in trouble, athletic director Scott Leykam says.
"Terry has my support," Leykam says. "We've had some good discussions the last few days. This year — the conference season, in particular — was hard on everybody. The second the season was over, we're refocused. We've talked about what a team identity looks for us — offensively, defensively, who we are from a player development perspective, what we need from a recruiting perspective."
The Pilots probably couldn't afford to fire Porter, but Leykam says that wouldn't be his intent, anyway.
"After a season like this, you look at everything," he says. "I don't think it's fair to put it all on the head coach. This is a tough job. it's a place where basketball success has been fleeting over the years, but we can't use that as a crutch.
"Men's basketball is critical from a revenue and visibility standpoint. There has to be a commitment from me. I have to make sure we're supporting them, that we are putting the infrastructure in place for them to succeed. ... But we have to start moving the needle in basketball. Basketball success affects everybody."
The Pilots now have the Beauchamp Recreation Center, an indoor practice facility that opened in 2015. There is a trainer dedicated to men's basketball now. What's not on board is a roster yet capable of winning at the D-I level.
The Pilots will return eight scholarship players, including Porter's other son, Malcolm, a 6-4 guard who averaged 3.7 points in 12.4 minutes off the bench as a sophomore this season. Starters JoJo Walker at point guard and Theo Akwuba at center will be back. Porter has signed two incoming freshmen — 7-foot, 225-pound Cody Collinsworth of Lindale, Texas, and Donyae McCaskill, a 6-3 guard from St. Louis. The Pilots can sign three more players.
"We're looking at grad and JC transfers, for perimeter guys who can give us a combination of shooting and scoring," Porter says.
And he is looking for more on-court success.
"It's been exciting being around these young guys," Porter says. "I've enjoyed the experience of developing them and talking to them about my experience as a player and helping them grow as people.
"But it's also about winning. When you don't win, it sucks no matter where you're at. You want to get results and build a winning culture. That's what it's all about."
Porter says they are "making strides" toward getting there, but isn't sure what the 2019-20 Pilots will look like.
"It's too early until we get all the pieces and see what we have," he says. "The guys who are here now are going to get better. They're putting in the work, getting stronger in the weight room. It's a matter of continuing to work to improve in every way."
Both Portland State and Portland "want" that next season. But it's the Pilots, and their coach, who are up against the wall in terms of "need."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.