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NBA draft: Otto Porter Jr. is big talent from small town

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Otto Porter Jr. has one of the most distinctive first names among the top prospects in Thursday’s NBA draft, a name that he discovered means “wealth” in German during his time studying at Georgetown.

But in his tiny home town of Sikeston, Mo., Porter is known by family and friends simply as, “Bubba.”

“That’s a family name,” Porter said. “My grandmother gave me that name when I was little. Every time I’d go to her house, I’d clean the refrigerator out.”

Since declaring for the draft two months ago, Porter has been overwhelmed by the swiftness with which his life has changed, the million-dollar payday that awaits him and how far removed he already is from the time he would chop wood to work out and get prepared for the winter.

When asked about the first purchase he plans to make after getting drafted, Porter paused, pondered, then replied: “Probably a car. Just for transportation back and forth. That’s something I’m going to need, right?”

Porter maintains a low-key country charm and humility, but that shouldn’t be confused with having a lack of confidence. Though many have projected him going third overall to the Wizards, Porter — the Big East player of the year and the first Hoyas player to be named first-team all-American since Allen Iverson — hasn’t given up on going first to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I feel that my game and my versatility, what I do, I feel it deserves number one,” Porter said. “I feel like it’s in everybody’s nature to want to go number one. I feel if I go one, two or three, just to go, will be the best thing that happened to me.”

Porter has compared himself to Tayshaun Prince, the long-armed, lanky forward who won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, when Porter was just 11. Prince has a reputation for being a solid defender and occasional playmaker, skills that Porter would like to replicate at the next level. But he would also like to model his game after his favorite player, District native and four-time NBA all-star Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Seeing somebody in my mode — skinny, athletic, long and can score, defend. Things like that,” Porter said when asked about what he likes about the slight but effective Durant. “Just seeing how he was able to respond to it. He did a great job of that and I can see myself, responding like that.”

While in high school, Porter was president of the history club, a subject that he says “fascinates” him and contributed to him attending college in the nation’s capital. And in recent weeks, has taken time studying past NBA greats and has grown especially fond of Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who shares similar rural roots and won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.

“Tremendous player,” Porter said. “Had a lot of skills. He might not have been the most athletic person, but he can beat you in so many other ways and I try to study his passing ability, vision up the court. His ability to get a shot off. I bring a lot of versatility to the table. Defend. Rebound. Score. But also be a leader.”

Porter said he learned a valuable lesson about becoming a better leader during the NCAA tournament last March, when his final college season after the second-seeded Hoyas were upset in the first round by Florida Gulf Coast.

“What I took from it was, it doesn’t matter who you play, it doesn’t matter who they are, you have to look at them the same,” Porter said. “You can’t take anyone for granted.”

The loss has been used as motivation during his pre-draft workouts, but Porter is grateful for his time spent at the Hilltop, where Coach John Thompson III instilled a defensive mind-set and gave him the opportunity to expand his game and grow to become a top five pick.

“My whole two years there stand out, coming from a small town to the big city, it speaks for itself. I’ve learned and I’ve grown so much in that short period of time, I feel like it’s definitely prepared me for the situation that I’m in now,” Porter said. “I feel I’ve worked on everything that I worked on in college – ball handling, strength. And just like college, I had to step up my skills. I have to step up my skills to a whole other level. Just to compete at the highest levels. … It’s going to take a lot of hard work to transition. Playing against great guys every night is going to be tough. But I feel like it’s going to be great for me.”

Porter has been the favorite to land in Washington ever since the team jumped five spots to third at the NBA draft lottery. He is okay with the high probability that he will continue his career in the same city where he played in college.

“It would mean a lot. I’m very comfortable with D.C. I went to school in D.C. I love D.C. It’s a great place to be. Great people. And I wouldn’t mind staying,” Porter, who would form a promising young trio with John Wall and Bradley Beal. “I think we’ll be a decent team. with John penetrating, getting passed his man and with me and Brad, we’d open up the court a lot more than what he’s used to.”

But Porter would also be fine if he has to go elsewhere. “I feel any place I go, it’ll be just like D.C.,” Porter. “It’s just me being comfortable where I go and being comfortable with my game. The way I look at it, anywhere I go I feel like I’ll definitely get accustomed. And just go there with the mindset of wanting to play and wanting to win.”

Porter is now just dealing with the emotions of being so close to fulfilling a dream that he believes many in his home town could’ve reached if they had been placed in similar situations. “It’s indescribable how I feel. It’s just happening so fast. I’m just trying to enjoy it right now, but I’m very excited,” Porter said. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel. I might be cool. I might be excited, I might be nervous. I don’t try to think about it.”


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