Just like that, it’s goodbye “College Gameday,” hello “Inside the NBA.”
The most prepared freshman John Thompson III ever coached became too polished to stay on the Hilltop more than two years. With a wingspan stretching from F Street to McDonough Gymnasium, Porter’s sinewy 6-foot-8 frame and do-everything game isn’t expected to last past the first five picks in the June draft.
I know what you’re thinking: Why the fuss? Kids leave early all the time now. It’s part of the big-school landscape. No sense getting too attached to anything but a program anymore.
But Porter’s blindingly quick path to the pros is unlike almost anything seen in college basketball in roughly two decades.
The last of his 32 home games comes on a nostalgic Saturday at Verizon Center against rival Syracuse, in the schools’ final Big East regular season meeting before the conference dissolves amid university presidents’ obsession with more dollars.
That’s fitting because everything about Porter’s game takes you back, to a time and place when kids weren’t treated differently because they could ball a little in eighth grade, when winning a high school state championship with kids you grew up with meant more than celebrating a glitzy AAU tournament title with relative strangers in Las Vegas — when the first plane ride a highly coveted teenage basketball star took was actually to the college campus of the coach who wanted him.
Porter’s first time on an airplane was indeed the day he visited Georgetown in April 2010, flying from the hamlet of Sikeston, Mo., in Scott County (pop. 41,143). He never went to an Adidas- or Nike-sponsored camp, never took free shoes and gear — never even wanted it.
“I had my father and my uncles and my teammates back home — that’s all I needed,” Porter said Tuesday after practice on the McDonough court.
What other ballplayer in America is asked whom he patterned his game after and replies, “You mean my favorite player growing up? When I was coming up, it was my father.”
Otto Porter Sr. starred on Scott County Central’s first title team in 1976, and at least one Porter played on the school’s first 11 championship teams.
“He didn’t play AAU and go to all these camps and you can kind of tell that with the way he plays,” said Nate Lubick, the Hoyas’ junior center. “He has kind of like a junkyard game from playing on the playground and with his relatives growing up. He can switch gears really quick. He’s not the quickest, most athletic, fastest, strongest player in the country. But he just really knows how to play.”
Lubick added, “You know, though, as good a player as he is, Otto is an even better teammate.”
After Georgetown beat Rutgers at home Saturday, Porter was told by a team official he had scored 28 points. “How many rebounds?” he asked. “Eight,” he was told.
“No, no, no – I meant team rebounds. How many team rebounds did we have?” (Before Rutgers, the Hoyas had been outrebounded the previous three games.)
“I really try not to look at myself as the best player on the team,” he said. “I try to look at myself as a team player, a team role model.”
Porter has become so good at making it about the team, in fact, that JTIII’s biggest frustration in coaching Porter the past couple of years is getting Porter to understand it’s okay to make it about Otto. He’s almost selfless to a fault.
In many ways his quick ascension is a great testament to Thompson, who should be the Big East coach of the year. With Greg Monroe leaving after two seasons and now Porter certain to follow, Georgetown is viewed again as a bona fide apprenticeship for the NBA.
The idea that the Princeton offense was going to slow the growth of one-on-one isolation players headed to the I-Got-Mines, sneaker-war universe turned out to be a false notion, no?
Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Monroe are all doing fine at the next level, dunk you very much.
But the reality is hardly anyone NBA-good stays in college for four years anymore, and now it’s Porter’s turn to make the leap.
I’m going to miss his uncanny knowledge of the game for such a young player. He posts up when he knows he has a tiny guard on him. He takes bigger men beyond the perimeter, economically using the three-point arc instead of exploiting it for personal gain. The way he slows down the game in his mind is unlike so many look-at-me crossover kids, who dribble around purposeless, like chickens without heads.
Porter is an old basketball soul, from somewhere around 1960, trapped in a 2013 Nike Summer Jam universe. He has some of Scottie Pippen’s elongated arms, a little of George Gervin’s smooth and a bit of John Havlicek’s clutch.
And now he’s all but gone — headed for the NBA, where K.D., LeBron and Kobe will soon have to contend with O.P., the new-jack cat with the ancient game.
“I’ve seen that mentioned once or twice but no one has just told me that,” he said. “Actually, I do have an old-school game.”
“Do you like hearing that?” he is asked.
“Most definitely. I love it.”
I have no idea if he will be a better pro than, say, Tayshaun Prince or Andre Iguodala. But I know good basketball players when I see them, who understand axioms like “Good things happen when you cut to the basket,” and “The backboard is your friend.” And Otto Porter is of the finest caliber of well-rounded young player I’ve seen in person, and that includes Jason Kidd lighting up the Oakland Coliseum when he was 15.
He’s not merely a credit to Georgetown, JTIII or Otto Porter Sr. He’s not just a reminder that unspoiled kids from the nooks and crannies of the country can still make it big if they work hard enough to develop their game.
Porter is a credit to the very soul of what the game still can be: five parts functioning as one, the sublime choreography of teamwork that all starts when the best player gives only to the good of the group.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.