Freshman Otto Porter is a big reason the surging Hoyas are 10-1 and on a roll heading into a clash with fourth-ranked Louisville. “He’s the most prepared freshman that I’ve coached,” said Hoyas Coach John Thompson III. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Otto Porter had never been on an airplane before flying to Washington for his official recruiting visit to Georgetown. Now the freshman has his own chant at Verizon Center: “Otto-matic.”  

From a small town in Missouri to a burgeoning star for a nationally ranked program, Porter’s ahead-of-schedule emergence has mirrored that of his team. And, like the Hoyas, his biggest test to date arrives Wednesday, when No. 12 Georgetown visits undefeated and fourth-ranked Louisville (12-0) in the Big East opener for both teams.    

“Do I think we’re ready?” Coach John Thompson III said. “Yes. But now you have to go play the games.” 

The Hoyas are off to a 10-1 start for the fifth consecutive season, and Porter’s play has been a big reason for that surprising start. A versatile 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward, he ranks second on the team in rebounds (5.9 per game), third in minutes (26.8) and fifth in points (8.3).

“He’s the most prepared freshman that I’ve coached,” Thompson said. “That’s not saying he’s the best, but he’s the most prepared to compete at this level. And it’s because of that understanding.”

The “understanding” to which Thompson refers was the knowledge instilled by Porter’s basketball-crazed family in Sikeston, Mo. 

Porter’s father, Otto Sr., led Scott County Central High to the first of its state-record 15 Class 1A state championships in 1976. In the years that followed, Porter’s uncles Melvin, Calvin and Jerry all helped the Braves to state titles.

“We have a good basketball tradition,” said Porter, adding that his mother, Elnora Timmons, also claimed a championship at the same school. “We’re just an all-around basketball family.” 

“They gave me a lot of advice,” he said. “It was fun going up against [Otto Sr.]. It helped prepare me for college life.”

As a freshman in 2008, Porter helped Scott County Central — a school of approximately 120 — to a third-place finish in the state tournament. Each of the next three seasons, though, ended with Porter celebrating a title. As a junior, he grabbed a state-record 35 rebounds in the final.

Porter eschewed the AAU basketball circuit, but that didn’t stop him from being recruited by Kansas, Missouri and Georgetown, among others. Hoyas assistant coach Robert Kirby played basketball at the same community college as Porter’s father.

“There are very few secrets out there,” Thompson said. “Everyone has someone who’s going to call you and tell you about someone.”  

Thompson said he was somewhat concerned about the level of competition Porter faced in Missouri’s smallest classification. Those concerns, however, were assuaged after attending several of Porter’s games in person. 

“Even in those settings you could see, regardless of the level of competition, how hard he was playing,” Thompson said.

It was that worth ethic — in particular his dogged pursuit of rebounds — that convinced Thompson that Porter not only could play in the Big East, but make an immediate impact. 

“There are a lot of kids that are surrounded by basketball 24 hours a day, but where he is special, and his family is special, is they haven’t babied him,” Thompson said. “A lot of people that have been around basketball 24 hours a day have been told that he’s great, that they don’t have to work on anything. He was always taught that he has to work and improve.” 

With 13 points against Howard, Porter led the Hoyas in scoring. He’s also led the team in rebounding (or was tied for the lead) in five games, his season high of 10 coming in an 81-55 victory over American on Dec. 12. That was also the game when Georgetown’s student section chanted, “Otto-matic”.

“It’s his rebounding,” senior Jason Clark said. “He goes after all loose balls. That’s what stands out the most.” 

Porter’s ability to rebound figures to be a key against the balanced the Cardinals, who are ranked ninth in the nation in rebounds per game (41.2).

But that’s not all Thompson said the Hoyas need from their sixth man against an opponent that boasts exciting point guard Peyton Siva and less than five points between top scorer (Kyle Kuric, 13.3 points per) and its sixth leading point producer (Chane Behanan, 8.8) .

“He has to do what he’s been doing,” he said. “He’s not limited to just rebounding. It’s rebounding, defense, offense, communication. He does every part of the game, and he has to bring that again tomorrow.”