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Paul Danzer On College Hoops: AD Leykam says recruiting, especially of international players, will be key

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - TERRY PORTERThe last two seasons have been challenging for Terry Porter.

The Portland Pilots men's basketball coach has endured more losing than at any point in a basketball life that, more often than not, has seen hard work produce success.

Portland has endured several long seasons. The 2019-20 Pilots finished 9-23, 1-15 in West Coast Conference play, and lost their final 15 games. Injuries didn't help, but in four seasons under Porter, Portland is 37-92, 7-63 in WCC games. 

"I've never been through a stretch like that before. That's been tough," Porter said. "But I've been around the game a long time, and I know it's not a permanent situation."

Portland Vice President for Athletics Scott Leykam announced last week that Porter will return for fifth season as the Pilots coach.

Porter said he copes with the struggles by returning to habits that served him as a player with the Trail Blazers.

"Just like when you're competing as an athlete, you get up every day and keep grinding," Porter said. "This is not going to last. These are short-term, not long-term (struggles)."

At a time when many Portland programs are on the upswing or consistently competitive — including men's cross country, men's and women's soccer, women's basketball, baseball and men's tennis — the men's basketball program is an outlier on the Bluff.

This week, Leykam told me he is committed to helping Porter land the recruits he needs to lift the program.

"I understand that there are people who are frustrated and want things to look differently. I think they need to know that Terry and I are working together and doing our best to make positives out of a far-from-ordinary situation," Leykam said.

That work includes brainstorming ways to promote the program and the university when the campus is closed. Leykam said he has regular contact with Porter and assistant coaches Tyler Geving, Ben Johnson and Chris Buchanan to discuss recruiting strategies.

"The key from here is going to be recruiting," Leykam said. "How do we put together virtual campus tours and make recruits feel they are connected to campus? For us, it's pretty urgent because we have spots to fill and we want to move up the ladder."

Leykam said attracting transfers and graduate transfers has been part of the success stories for soccer and cross country. He said he is optimistic the men's basketball program will benefit from an "active and healthy" transfer portal.

"Terry's got every ounce of support from me to do the best we can," Leykam said. "These aren't ordinary circumstances, and we're going to have to get creative on how we attract student-athletes and how we build a culture."

The Pilots will lose guards Isaiah White and Lavar Harewood to graduation. Malcolm Porter, Theo Akwuba and Jacob Tyron have entered the transfer portal. Posts Hugh Hogland and Cody Collinsworth, a 7-footer who was redshirting as a freshman this season, left the program in January.

So the Pilots have up to five scholarships available at a time when recruiting is limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Right now, we're looking at grad transfers and (junior-college) guys who can step in next year and be impactful," Porter said.

He would like to add at least one "big" and several wing players.

When he looks at what is working for programs such as cross country, soccer and women's basketball, Leykam noted that those programs have successfully recruited talented international students.

For example, the women's basketball team has three Australians who are key contributors. Perhaps that Australia pipeline can help the men's program, which will add 6-5 freshman shooting guard Zac Triplett from Melbourne.

The NCAA-imposed restrictions that prevent in-person contact with recruits means trying to build connections with recruits through virtual communication. Porter listed phone calls, text messaging, Facetime and YouTube as tools he is using to connect with potential recruits. He is showing them a slideshow of facilities on campus, including the locker room, practice gym and Chiles Center.

He said response to those efforts has been positive. But the pandemic-caused uncertainty makes it likely recruits will wait to commit to a program with the hope that the opportunity for on-campus visits opens up.

"Guys are hesitant to commit without a visit," Porter said.

Portland added White and Harewood as graduate transfers a year ago. White was the Pilots' leading scorer (12.1 points per game). But an ankle injury hampered White for part of the conference season and was the reason he missed the last five games.

White's was one of a series of injuries that greatly impacted the Pilots' depth and contributed to their struggles in WCC play.

Key players expected back include guards JoJo Walker and Chase Adams.

The 6-1 Walker has averaged 9.9 points in 79 games (66 starts) over his first three seasons.

Porter said he wants to help Walker get more opportunities on offense next season. He said Walker needs to continue to get stronger and to offensively improve his ability to get to the rim and score.

The 5-7 Adams is a quick point guard who Porter sees as an energetic player helping the Pilots play at a quicker tempo. Adams averaged seven points and four assists in 18 games as a freshman. His quickness is especially effective on defense, and Porter likes the leadership he showed as a true freshman at the point. 

Malcolm Porter, 6-4, who averaged 9.5 points and played in 24 of 32 games this season, was honored at the final home game because he had decided to use his final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer after spending three seasons at Portland.

"He was tired of hearing his dad yell at him all the time," Terry Porter said with a laugh. "He wanted to try something different."

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