NEW YORK — Otto Porter Jr. already was starting to establish himself as a legend at Scott County Central High School in tiny Sikeston, Mo., when Superintendent Al McFerren asked him whether he needed a summer job and offered him a position as a janitor at the school.
Porter excitedly accepted the position because the job sweeping behind bleachers, painting walls and mopping floors would help him earn a little extra cash to buy some clothes or go to the movies. But more importantly, Porter would have keys to the school and unlimited access to the school gym, where he spent hours working on his game.
“I was just cleaning the gym so I could perform there. I enjoy doing things like that,” Porter said of the messy manual labor. “And afterward, I'd just go to the gym since I was there already. I was at the gym all day, every day, the entire summer. . . . Now that the work is paying off for me, it's crazy to think about it that way.”
Porter’s days as a cleanup man are over, though some team — possibly the Washington Wizards — will pick the former Georgetown star early in the NBA draft on Thursday night hoping he will help tidy up its mess.
The Wizards, who have missed the playoffs the past five seasons, have the third overall pick, but opposing executives don’t believe they will let Porter slip by given how well the versatile 6-foot-8 swingman could mesh with guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.
UNLV forward Anthony Bennett is also under heavy consideration and likely would be the choice if Porter goes first to Cleveland or second to Orlando. Bennett admitted he has had trouble sleeping the past week in anticipation of hearing his name called.
Only 20, Bennett has embarked on an arduous journey that began with his mother, Edith, moving him from the rough, gang-infested Jane and Finch neighborhood in Toronto to more serene environs in suburban Brampton. And when he realized that basketball could be his ticket out, Bennett moved to rural West Virginia and later Las Vegas, where he got the acclaim he sought.
After one year in college, Bennett is expected to go somewhere between first and sixth despite being unable to work out for teams as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn left rotator cuff. “It's something I try not to think about it, because it's crazy, like I'm finally here after years of playing basketball, people doubting me. It's just a surreal experience to finally be here,” Bennett said.
Uncertainty often abounds before the NBA draft, but this year the suspense is even more palpable because the Cavaliers continue to keep outsiders guessing about what they intend to do with the No. 1 overall pick.
At least six of the 13 nattily attired prospects who arrived at a ballroom at a Times Square hotel Wednesday have been mentioned as possibilities to go No. 1. Maryland sophomore center Alex Len and Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel are considered the front-runners in a draft that many scouts and executives consider low on impact players but high on serviceable role players.
“This draft is real unpredictable. You have a lot of guys with injuries. You don’t have like a LeBron James. It’s going to be interesting,” said Len, who is under consideration to go first and will remain confined to a walking boot for at least the next three weeks as he recovers from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left ankle. “I’m just trying to stay focused on what I can control. Definitely, somewhere inside, you want to be number one. You want to be the best. It’s just the competitive side. Yeah, I want to be number one.”
Len decided to declare for the draft after getting assurances he would be among the top 10 players chosen, but now he is looking forward to becoming the seventh player from Ukraine to play in the NBA — and the highest-drafted player from that country.
With Indiana guard and former DeMatha standout Victor Oladipo also expected to be among the top six players taken, the Washington area is expected to be heavily represented early on.
“Just shows how good our area is for basketball. We have a lot of great players who have already been proven. Kevin Durant. Tywon Lawson. Players of that nature,” said Oladipo, a native of Upper Marlboro. Porter and Len “have worked real hard. They’ve grown as players and as people as well. I’m glad to be from there, and I’m going to keep repping for my city.”
Oladipo is also anxious to show that the time he invested in what his parents, Chris and Joan, considered a hobby was actually worthwhile.
“It was a typical Nigerian home. You’ve got to be a doctor or a lawyer or something is wrong with you. I kind of took the other way and opened another door for myself. Did what I love to do,” Oladipo said. “Growing up, I used to love the game. My family couldn’t really understand why. Now when I get to walk across that stage, hopefully, they’ll understand. It’s just a dream.”
More on the Wizards and NBA:
Photos: Michael Lee’s mock draft