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BLAZERS GREAT TAKES REINS AT UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND



TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - New Portland Pilots men's basketball coach Terry Porter (center) is flanked by the university president, Rev. Mark L. Poorman, and athletic director Scott Leykam at Tuesday's press conference introducing the former Trail Blazers star on campus.Two words kept popping up Tuesday as the University of Portland introduced and celebrated its new men’s basketball coach: Perfect fit.

Terry Porter is that for the Pilots in multiple and important ways, athletic director Scott Leykam said as the school held a welcoming press conference/party for one of the all-time greatest and most beloved Trail Blazers.

Porter, who will turn 53 on Friday, called UP a perfect fit for him, as well.

“I’m proud to be the University of Portland basketball coach,” he said from a podium in Chiles Center.

Porter becomes the 21st head coach in Pilots history. It’s the first college assignment for the former NBA guard and head coach, who has served in recent years as a key community ambassador for the Blazers.

Leykam said he drove to Porter’s home Thursday morning and offered him the job, after talking to eight to 10 candidates. The list was cut to three finalists “with different coaching backgrounds and experiences,” Leykam said.

But Leykam and Jason Brough, UP’s associate AD for public relations, met downtown with Porter at the get-go and sensed they might have the right man for the job.

Porter’s core philosophies about basketball, his command of the Xs and Os, his personal traits and “moral character” all impressed the Pilots duo, Leykam said.

“He is a perfect fit for this community and the University of Portland campus community,” Leykam said Tuesday.

The AD posed for photos with Porter after presenting him with a Pilots jersey that said “PORTER … No. 30” in recognition of his uniform number as a Blazer.

“I don’t have any eligibility left,” Porter said, laughing.

The former Wisconsin-Stevens Point guard (1981-85) then gave a detailed and at times poignant speech. He recalled some significant moments and people in his career and outlined his approach to leading the Pilots.

“I can remember it like yesterday,” Porter began, talking about 1985, when, as an NBA rookie just drafted 24th overall by the Blazers, he would drive north on Interstate-5, “take the Portland Boulevard exit, turn left and come here to UP” to work out with some of the Pilots.

“I was trying to improve my skills and become the best basketball player I could be,” he said.

Now, 31 years later, he was standing on the same court and declaring, “I’m proud of this day.”

Several hundred people — fans and students included — came to see and listen to Porter’s first day on the job, and they applauded several times during the festivities.

Porter thanked his wife of 26 years, Susie, and children Brianna, Franklin and Malcolm for their love and support. “Besides me, Susie is the happiest person in the building,” Porter said.

The new coach promised that Pilots players, “before they leave The Bluff, will take with them a degree, great integrity and the ability to lead.”

Why coach college basketball, and why now?

Porter said his college coach, Dick Bennett, gave the tools to have a 17-year NBA career, and much more. “He’s helped shape my life, and now I want to be able to shape other men’s lives,” Porter said.

Porter, whose coaching resume includes head positions with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns and assistant jobs with Sacramento, Detroit and Minnesota, said he “always wanted to get back into coaching” but wanted to spend quality time as his sons finished their high school careers. The youngest, Malcolm, was a senior on the Jesuit High Crusaders this past prep season.

Coming to UP is a natural, Porter said, because “Portland is my home. I love this city, and I’m very familiar with the West Coast Conference and the challenges and opportunities. … It’s a great match, a win-win.”

The tasks ahead of him include getting more fans into the arena and competing with the top dogs of the WCC, Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s. “Those are programs at very high levels, and we want Portland to be in that conversation,” he said.

Porter said he was looking forward to recruiting players. “I will be able to get into some living rooms and open some doors,” he said. And while that could be wherever, Porter said “first and foremost, I want to control our borders and get the best local talent here in Portland and around the Northwest.”

His first assistant coach already is in place — Porter said he has hired Mike Burns, a veteran assistant who worked last season at the University of the Pacific, where another former Blazers guard with major Portland ties, Damon Stoudamire, has become the new head coach. Burns, from Tyee, Wash., previously spent seven years on the basketball staff at the University of San Diego.

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