Search is on for Pilots next men's basketball coach
Scott Leykam wants to find his next men's basketball coach as soon as possible.
But, the University of Portland's Vice President for Athletics said his priority is to find the right coach.
The university parted ways with Terry Porter on Feb. 3 after 4 1/2 seasons in the basement of the West Coast Conference. Leykam said the search for a new coach is moving forward. He isn't waiting for this college basketball season to end and hopes to soon have a narrow list of preferred candidates, at which point a committee of stakeholders will be formed to conduct interviews. The pandemic restricts the way the search will play out, with candidates interviewing remotely.
"This search is just going to look different," Leykam said. "I think we've learned how to manage the virtual space to get people connected in the right way."
Leykam said he is focusing on three areas in which the new coach must excel: Player development, creating a positive team culture and recruiting and retaining talented student athletes.
He said the pool of potential coaches includes some with Division I head coaching experienced, small-college coaches and assistant coaches with experience recruiting in the WCC.
"There are going to be 20 to 30 people who could do this job in terms of Xs and Os and recruiting," Leykam said.
Recruiting is the biggest factor in determining the success of a program, and Portland has struggled to attract and develop players to compete with Division I opponents. The most ballyhooed recruiting class under Porter arrived in the fall of 2017. It wasn't close to being a top-20 recruiting class as one obscure recruiting website ranked it, though guards Marcus Shaver Jr. and JoJo Walker seemed like nice fits when they arrived.
This is the fourth year in the program for that 2017 recruiting class, or what's left of it. That would be Takiula Fahrensohn, a 6-7 wing from New Zealand who is averaging 2.9 points in 18 minutes a game as a redshirt junior.
Tahirou Diabate, a 6-9 senior forward from Mali, opted out this season. Shaver Jr. transferred to Boise State after his sophomore season and is averaging 11.9 points as a starter for the Broncos this winter. Walker left school and in January signed to play in the Macedonia Superleague.
Player retention was a big challenge during Porter's tenure. The transfer portal's impact on college basketball is clear. Rosters at even the more successful programs experience significant year-to-year turnover. But wooing transfers every year is a tough formula for creating consistent success — particularly at a place like Portland that has had one winning season (17-16 in 2014-15) in a decade and entering this week had won once in the last 48 West Coast Conference games.
Leykam emphasized that he wants the Pilots to be able to develop players and keep them in the program long enough to see those players succeed.
Leykam said Porter's struggles were not from a lack of effort or commitment. He called Porter "the highest character guy you're ever going to find."
As a reporter who first interacted with Porter in the 1990s while he helped the Trail Blazers to the brink of an NBA title (or three), I concur. I was at the Chiles Center on Nov. 11, 2016, when the Pilots beat UC Riverside in Porter's first game as coach. There were more than 2,000 fans there, and the optimism was palpable.
That success never came.
The struggles for Pilots men's basketball are an outlier at UP, where there is genuine momentum for most other programs. But at Portland and in the WCC, men's basketball is the sport that drives revenue for the athletic department. Leykam noted that if basketball is winning, the revenue it can generate will benefit all of the Pilots' programs.
"It's important to get it turned around," Leykam said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but we need it to be heading in the right direction."
Oregon men hanging around — We should not be at all surprised to see Oregon lurking near the top of the Pac-12 standings. The Ducks, despite stoppages for COVID-19 and a rotating cast of players, enter this week third in the conference at 7-3. With three weeks left in the regular season, the Ducks have five scheduled games remaining, beginning Thursday, Feb. 18, against Colorado at home, and with five potential make-up games.
USC (11-2) is the class of the conference, so far. And UCLA (10-3) is in second place. Oregon has had both games against the Bruins and one against the Trojans postponed.
If the Ducks get hot and stay mostly healthy, they have the potential to finish with the best record (or winning percentage) in the conference, and certainly become a tough out in the postseason.
"If we get (fundamental mistakes) cleaned up and really get our execution better, I think we can make a tremendous jump yet," coach Dana Altman said after clutch play down the stretch produced a 63-61 win Feb. 13 at Arizona.
Portland State update — The Viking men have won four of five (three of four in the Big Sky), the lone loss a painful one in overtime to Montana after leading by three in the final seconds. PSU opponents scored fewer than 70 points in regulation in the Vikings' last five Big Sky games. The Vikings' 14 offensive rebounds per game was tie for seventh most in the country entering this week's scheduled games against Idaho.
Oregon women projected as 11th seed — The Ducks are one of four Pac-12 teams in the first reveal from the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Committee, which was announced Monday, Feb. 15.
Oregon sits at the No. 11 overall seed in the preliminary top-16 listing. Stanford is No. 3, Arizona No. 8 and UCLA No. 9.
Still seeking a win over an elite opponent after a 63-61 loss to Stanford on Monday, the Ducks are scheduled to get another shot at a statement win with a 5 p.m. Friday visit to UCLA (Pac-12 Network)
Rasheed honored by Big Sky — Former Grant High standout Khiarica Rasheed was named Big Sky Conference women's basketball player of the week for the week ending Feb. 7. A senior forward at Northern Arizona, Rasheed averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in a pair of wins over Sacramento State. On Feb. 6, she hit the winning shot with 0.2 seconds on the clock.
Portland State turned the tables on Rasheed and the Lumberjacks with a pair of last-play wins last week. On Feb. 12, Jada Lewis hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left after Rasheed had given NAU a lead. Two days later, Desirae Hansen made three foul shots with 4.5 seconds left and the Vikings forced Rasheed into a tough shot from the key that missed as time expired.
Another former Grant General, Nina Radford, is injured and has not played this season for NAU.
Rasheed is slated to cross paths with another former Grant teammate this week when NAU plays Weber State twice. Former General Daryn "Monka" Hickok is a sophomore forward for the Wildcats, averaging 9.5 points and 3.2 rebounds a game this season.
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.