Pilots chart new course
Terry Porter's first four seasons as the Portland Pilots men's basketball coach have been marked by struggle.
Nothing like what the Pilots, and all of college basketball, face in 2020, of course. For example, the Pilots, who are scheduled to open at home Wednesday, Nov. 25, against Seattle U, have moved away from normal full-contact practices.
As of late last week, Portland (and Portland State) were awaiting permission from Gov. Kate Brown to hold full practices with five-on-five drills. With almost a completely new roster, practicing five-on-zero and in small groups has made it tough on Porter and his staff as they work to find winning combinations.
The limits to practice impact the ability to evaluate seven new upperclassmen who transferred to Portland, Porter noted. The challenges range from building relationships and trust between players and coaches to creating a team bond without traditional team activities.
"We're focused on what we can control," Porter said.
Portland is coming off a 9-23 season (1-15 in West Coast Conference games) in which the Pilots' offense struggled, especially after injuries slowed go-to guys such as graduate transfer Isaiah White.
White (12.2) was Portland's top scorer in his only season on The Bluff. Also not around are guard JoJo Walker (11.6), who did not return for his senior season, and veteran 6-9 forward Tahirou Diabate, who opted out because of COVID-19.
Diabate, a native of Mali who has played in 80 games with 57 starts at UP, has the option to return for one more season.
New Zealander Takiula Fahrensohn will look to become a more impactful presence on the wing in his redshirt junior season after averaging five points in 25 minutes over 14 games last season.
Sophomore point guard Chase Adams out of Chicago played more than 28 minutes a game last season, when his quickness was a defensive weapon. Porter is looking for improved decision-making and a better catch-and-shoot jumper from the 5-7 Adams.
Portland scored at least 70 points in its first three conference games last season (including a 76-65 win over San Francisco on Jan. 4 that was the last win of 2020 for the Pilots). They didn't reach 70 points again, except in a double-overtime loss to San Diego.
"There's no way you can win games in our conference scoring 60 points," Porter said.
To address that, Portland brought in seven transfers. Two of them are graduate students and five are juniors.
"We feel like the makeup of the roster is going to give us more opportunities to score and to attack in different ways," Porter said.
Senior Ahmed Ali, a transfer who averaged 7.3 points and 2.9 assists for Washington State two seasons ago, is a former junior college all-American who provides experience at the point, a good 3-point shot and a good feel for the game, according to Porter.
Graduate transfer Michael Henn is a 6-8 forward who can pop outside on offense. A Bellevue, Washington, native, he missed last season because of injury but played for UC Davis and for Cal Baptist before coming to Portland.
Five juniors joined the Pilots from junior college ranks: Forwards Eddie Davis (6-6) and Hunter Seymour (6-8) and guards Isiah Dasher (6-3), Clythus Griffith (6-2) and Latrell Jones (6-5).
Portland signed two freshmen: 6-9 forward Hayden Curtiss of North Bend, Washington, who helped Mount Si High win the Washington big-school 2020 state title; and 6-5 Australian guard Zac Triplett.
Porter said every available player should see action in early games as players work to develop game-level conditioning — and the coaches learn more about the players.
If depth develops, running the floor to get easy baskets is one way the Pilots can find more scoring.
"We've been talking about our identity, about how we want to be a good defensive team. We'd like to be able to push the tempo offensively and put the ball on the floor and attack the basket," Porter said.
Of course, it would be nice just to be able to hold a full-on practice.
Despite not being allowed to practice, as of Monday Portland was still expecting to play host to its pod of games, which is scheduled to begin with Seattle U against Idaho at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25.
• As of Nov. 25 (subject to change), Portland's fluid non-conference schedule includes home games against NAIA teams William Jessup on Nov. 28 and Northwest University (Nov. 29), on Dec. 5 against Portland State, Dec. 22 against Montana State and Dec. 30 against Seattle U. The Pilots are scheduled to play at Oregon State on Dec. 10 and at Seattle U on Dec. 19.
If the plan holds, UP will open WCC play on Jan. 2 in Stockton, California, against Damon Stoudamire's Pacific Tigers. Gonzaga is slated to be at Chiles Center on Jan. 9, but Porter expressed skepticism that the WCC schedule will go as planned given the recent spike in COVID-19.
• No fans will be allowed at games at the Chiles Center for the foreseeable future. All Portland home games will be streamed on the WCC website and all UP men's basketball games will be carried by AM 910 ESPN radio.
• Malcolm Porter, who transferred from Portland to Northern Arizona, opted out this season after COVID-19 hit the campus. He has the option to play one more season.
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