Porter's Pilots see a course correction
In the summer of 2017, the HoopScoop.com website ranked Terry Porter's recruiting class as the 10th best in the nation.
Four of the five freshmen in that class are still at the University of Portland, and their development is one reason for Pilots fans to hope that the 2019-20 men's basketball season will be better than the previous one.
It won't take a big turnaround for the Pilots to improve on 7-25 and losing their final 18 games and going winless in 16 games against West Coast Conference opponents.
After an 89-72 exhibition win over George Fox on Saturday, Portland's first counting game was Tuesday against Division III Willamette. A much different challenge comes Friday at USC, followed by a Sunday visit to San Jose State.
For Porter's Pilots to change course, improved play and contributions from third-year players will be vital. Another, likely more significant, factor will be the impact of transfer guards Isaiah White, Lavar Harewood and Quincy Ferebee. Porter expects that trio to provide maturity and basketball savvy that was lacking last season.
"You've got to have guys with the ability to put the ball on the floor, get to the rim. We didn't have enough guys last year that could do that and be impactful," Porter said. "And then you have to have some shooting. For whatever reason, last year guys just had bad years (shooting)."
Sharing the basketball better should help improve the Pilots' shooting.
"Our assist-to-turnover ratio was not good, so we have to have guys make better decisions with the ball," Porter said. "I think we've answered some of those questions, but you still don't know until you start playing against competition and you're able to see where those guys are at."
One player no longer at Portland is Marcus Shaver Jr.
A centerpiece of that heralded 2017 recruiting class, Shaver led Portland in scoring (14.8 points per game) as a sophomore. The guard transferred to Boise State and is sitting out this season.
Guards JoJo Walker and Malcom Porter return and will be joined by the trio of transfers and a freshman point guard. Walker (11.5) is the top returning scorer and led the Pilots in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio as a sophomore.
Improved play is expected from Walker and from Malcom Porter in their third seasons, but graduate transfers White and Harewood will need to be big contributors if UP is going to improve significantly.
"They're experienced. They've been at the collegiate level, so from that standpoint they know how to play," Porter said. "They know how to fit into a system and have a high basketball IQ."
White is a 6-4 guard who last season at Maine led the team in points (13.5), minutes (1,040), steals (43) and blocks (22) in 31 games (25 starts).
Porter describes White as a scorer, a slasher who can finish at the rim.
Harewood played in 21 games last season for South Carolina State, averaging 9.8 points and 3.6 rebounds.
"Lavar is a shooter out to the 3-point line and can guard a little bit," Porter said.
"When you look at all the guys we lost, we need some perimeter scoring. Those guys are going to provide that, and also Isaiah has the ability to get to the rim and finish."
Quincy Ferebee is a 6-1 junior college transfer who averaged 11.6 points in 16 minutes per game as a sophomore at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California.
In addition to Shaver, Portland lost its appeal to the NCAA for an extra season for Josh McSwiggan, who is playing pro ball in France. And, Franklin Porter and Crisshawn Clark decided to begin their post-college lives.
The most intriguing addition on the Bluff is freshman point guard Chase Adams from Chicago. After starring at Orr High, the 5-7 Adams spent last year at Link Year Prep in Branson, Missouri, averaging 16 points, 7.3 assists and 2.8 steals while making 45% of his 3s.
"Chase is our little engine that's going to bring pace for us, can really defend the ball and has the ability to pass as well," Porter said.
Despite the 3-point line shifting back almost 17 inches to the international distance of 22 feet, 1.75 inches, Portland will be looking to improve from last season's .325 shooting from behind the arc.
One of the players the Pilots hope can be a more consistent perimeter shooter is 6-11 junior Jacob Tryon, who made 261 from 3-point distance in his first NCAA Division I season. Porter said Tryon needed to get stronger and should get better looks this season.
Takiul Fahrensohn, a 6-7 redshirt sophomore guard and another member of that 2017 recruiting class, "has made some really good strides," according to Porter.
Miles Turner, who played all of 16 minutes as a freshman last season, also has made strides, according to Porter.
Junior forward Tahirou Diabate (6-9, 225) is a returning starter will be counted on as an inside presence after averaging 6.4 points and 4.2 rebounds. He had 20 points and 13 rebounds in the exhibition win over George Fox.
Sophomore center Theo Akwuba (6-11, 220) won't be eligible until December, which should mean early opportunities for redshirt sophomore Hugh Hogland (6-10, 230) and sophomore forward Josh Phillips (6-8, 245).
The only player joining the Pilots straight from high school is Cody Collinsworth (7-0, 230), another big man who can shoot the 3. He missed the exhibition game because of illness.
The other high school player who committed to the Pilots was Donyae McCaskill, but the guard from St. Louis wound up in prep school after not gaining admission to UP.
The offseason included a change on the coaching staff. Porter parted with veteran assistant Bob Cantu and promoted Chris Buchanan from assistant director of basketball operations to assistant coach. Former Portland State head coach Tyler Geving and Bob Johnson remain as Porter assistants.
In the aftermath of last season, Porter said he talked with his team about making "a commitment to the game, a commitment to winning, a commitment to teammates."
Ahead of his fourth season at the Pilots' helm, Porter reminded the returnees they won't be defined by the struggles of last season but rather by their response and preparation for the season ahead.
"We talked about coming in every day and trying to get better. That's our goal," Porter said. "We know nothing is going to be given to us and we have to go out and earn it. We've got to go out and play with an edge and not beat ourselves."
Not surprisingly, the Pilots were picked to finish 10th (last) in the preseason WCC coaches' poll.
Other than the trip to Los Angeles to face USC on Friday, the early games should give the Pilots the chance to pick up a few wins while they develop the individual roles of newcomers.
The schedule turns more challenging come the holidays, with Houston first up for Portland at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawai'i. That tournament is followed on Jan. 2 with the WCC opener — against powerhouse Gonzaga at Chiles Center.
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