Wizards’ Otto Porter Jr. happy to stay in second “hometown”


I get to stick around. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Before he agreed to board an airplane for the first time to make his official visit to Georgetown, Otto Porter Jr. needed to be cajoled by his high school history teacher, Dee Cookson, that a trip to Washington would worthwhile – if for nothing else – because of what he would encounter in the nation’s capital.

“She said, ‘You’ve got to go see the sights, because you might like it,’ ” Porter recalled on Friday at Verizon Center. “So I said, ‘I’m definitely going to go and check it out.’ ”

Porter was initially disappointed when he was greeted with rain the moment he stepped off the plane three years ago, spoiling some of the views of the White House and Washington Monument as he toured the city. But during his three days in town, Porter immediately fell for the place and its rich history. His parents, Otto Sr., and Elnora, were even more impressed by the intimacy of Georgetown’s campus, which they felt would be a smoother adjustment for a kid from tiny Morely, Mo.

Needing just two days to ponder, Porter agreed with his father that he needed to attend Georgetown. And after two years of starring on the Hilltop, Porter will remain in the place that he calls “my hometown” after the Washington Wizards chose him third in the NBA draft. “Knowing that I’m here,” Porter said in his introductory news conference, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The Wizards wouldn’t either, after they were able to draft a player who meshes well – in terms of talent, skill set and personality – with the culture of hard work and accountability that they have been trying to establish since deciding to rebuild the franchise around the same time Porter made his visit to Georgetown.

Five consecutive lottery seasons now have yielded three top-three picks, and the Wizards hope that Porter will follow the successes of John Wall (No. 1, in 2010) and Bradley Beal (No. 3, 2012) and give the organization a dynamic young trio for many years to come.

“We feel like we have a nice foundation of young players with high character who are multidimensional type of players,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. “We said our goal is to make the playoffs and …he’s ready to fulfill that goal of ours. He’s very unselfish and a real team player. Still a lot of upside in him.”

The wiry, 6-foot-8 Porter provides the Wizards with versatility, given his ability to defend multiple positions, rebound and shoot from the perimeter. Coach Randy Wittman often poked his head in to see the Big East player of the year and first-team All-American play last season. After seeing Porter work out for the Wizards at Verizon Center two weeks ago, Wittman said he told Porter to tell his agent, David Falk, not to let him talk to anyone else.

“I was a little scared that he wasn’t going to be there and we’re ecstatic that he was there at three for us,” Wittman said. “He’s a guy, as a coach, you want guys like him. I loved playing with guys like him. He’s a guy that makes you better. He knows how to play. I really believe character is a skill and one that’s developed. Not only is he a good basketball player, he’s a good kid.”

The Wizards already have small forward Trevor Ariza under contract for next season and are interested in bring back free agent Martell Webster, who started at small forward most of last season. Wittman said he wouldn’t guarantee a starting job for Porter and plans to let the 20-year-old swingman determine his spot in practice – and Porter has no problem with that.

“I’m just going to work for it,” Porter said. “I don’t want anything given to me. I come from where I have to work for what I have and I’m just going to continue to do that.”

Porter was deemed by some scouts and rival executives as a safe pick that lacked the upside of some of the other top prospects in the draft, but Georgetown Coach John Thompson III scoffed at those assessments, rattling off similar analyses of former Hoyas Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe.

“He’ll show ‘em,” Thompson said of Porter, the highest Hoya draft pick since Allen Iverson. “When we were practicing to go to China the summer before his freshman year, after a couple of practices, we realized, ‘This kid is going to be pretty good.’ At that point, could I have said we’ll be standing here two years later? I’m not sure about that. But you’ve seen a steady progress. You’ve seen him come in as somebody who can do a lot of things on the court, to get to where he’s very good at a lot of different things…It’s a big adjustment going from the collegiate level to the NBA. His versatility, his work ethic, his caring, will help expedite that process.”

Porter’s father, Otto Sr., played a major role in keeping his son away from AAU basketball, encouraging him to focus more on individual skill work and fundamentals instead of getting some exposure by playing in some meaningless games. The younger Porter had to wait to get some attention, something he likely won’t be able to avoid as a high draft pick in the NBA, but Otto Sr. is not worried about his son, known back home as Bubba.

“He’s well grounded. He understands it; there’s the ups, there’s the downs, but his base is solid. He’ll do fine,” Otto Sr. said. “We’re looking for him to be a great player.”

Porter described his hometown in southeast Missouri as a “different world,” because “it’s more relaxed, more quiet, more nature, more country” than Washington. But he credits Cookson for nudging him to pay a visit that has paid off handsomely, and also his parents for helping him become the player and the person he is today.

“They knew that, ‘Hey, this kid has the talent. And he’s going to be very good if he continues to work on it.’ All he needs is a push,” Porter said. “Did they give it to me? Look at where I am now. Of course.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · June 28, 2013

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