The Education of Otto Porter
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 9, 2012 01:11
Just over a year ago, Otto Porter shot around on a side basket in McDonough Arena on Media Day, keeping to himself as his older teammates were assailed with flashbulbs and recorders for the first time in the 2011-12 season.
A first-semester freshman at the time, Porter was prohibited from talking to the media, as per team policy. But that didn’t stop reporters’ eyes from wandering to the back corner of McDonough, where Georgetown fans’ lone source of cautious optimism methodically practiced his unorthodox jumpshot.
Twelve months, 24 wins and one unexpected NCAA tournament appearance later, the quiet kid from Missouri is attracting much more than sidelong glances.
Porter blew the lid off everyone’s expectations for his freshman season, stunning the Hoya faithful with his talent and maturity as a rookie in the rough-and-tumble Big East. He’s vaulted to the top of NBA mock draft boards, played at prestigious summer camps run by the likes of Kevin Durant and LeBron James and become the presumed sophomore star of a senior-less Georgetown team.
So this fall, it’s Porter’s 6-foot-8 frame attracting swarms of reporters at Media Day, Porter’s name on the all-conference teams and Porter’s jersey hanging in team stores. But against all odds, the ever-brightening spotlight hasn’t made the small-town star go Hollywood.
“He’s a humble dude, so you don’t really worry about stuff like that,” sophomore guard Jabril Trawick said of the hype around his classmate.
“Otto’s as grounded as they come,” Head Coach John Thompson III added. “He just shows up, he brings his lunch pail, he works.”
To understand just how Porter balances growing stardom with his humble personality, though, you need to understand where he came from.
AN AMERICAN TALE
If Otto Porter’s life were a screenplay, studio executives would reject it for being too cliche.
Porter grew up a child of basketball royalty in Sikeston, Mo., a town of about 16,000 located in the rural southeastern corner of the state. He attended 171-student Scott County Central High School, the same institution at which his mother, Elnora, and father, Otto Sr., both starred a generation ago. Marcus Timmons, Porter’s uncle on his mother’s side, won two championships in Australia’s National Basketball League. Otto Sr. led the Braves to their first title in 1976, and the school subsequently retired his number.
But the younger Porter didn’t just coast off the lucky hand the genetic lottery had dealt him.
“Otto is extremely lucky, fortunate, blessed to be born into the family that he was,” Thompson III said at a press conference last March. “He has parents that played, uncles that played, and that pushed him. He was not babied. He was not coddled. He was not led to believe that anything should be given to you.”
Kenyon Wright, one of Porter’s coaches at Scott County Central, vouched for his former star’s work ethic by detailing his summer routine.
“He worked at the school. We had a couple of kids that interviewed, and the school hired them to do some painting and some work around the school,” Wright said. “They’d come in, be there at 8 o’clock and work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. So he did that all summer long — he’d go into school, work, then at 3 or whenever he was done working, he’d be in the gym. ... He’d get into that gym and shoot, run, dribble, do whatever he needed to work on. So come open gym time, he was already there. From 8 in the morning till 8 at night, he was up in the gym, up at school. He never left.”
Those long summer days in the gym paid off in a big way. Porter led the Braves to their 13th, 14th and 15th state championships, and high-level college coaches eventually began to take notice. In April 2011, after nearly all his peers had committed to schools, Porter finally signed a letter of intent to play for Thompson III at Georgetown.
“We were just very humbled by him being able to do what he’s done without a bunch of media, without playing AAU basketball and stuff,” Wright said. “It’s an experience for him, but it’s also an experience for the town and for the whole community around Scott County Central.”
Porter had made it big the old-fashioned way. He was never part of the shoe company-sponsored AAU circuit, nor was he plagued by the accompanying legions of sycophantic middlemen that complicate so many high-profile players’ college selections. No, Porter’s path was more “Hoosiers” than “Hoop Dreams,” more Larry Bird than O.J. Mayo. In an era of commercialization and corruption in the ranks of the high school basketball elite, Porter’s journey represents the archetypal American sporting dream.
Still, no matter how many charming tales of Middle America might be spun out of Porter’s high school days, none of it would have mattered if his career had fizzled in the glare of the city lights.
TOP OF HIS CLASS
Porter’s initiation into the world of high-level college hoops was baptism by fire. The Hoyas embarked on a now-notorious summer tour of China, slugging it out — sometimes all too literally — with the best professional teams the People’s Republic had to offer. Porter made an immediate impact, leading the team in scoring in his first outing and stuffing the stat sheet throughout the trip.
But it was assumed — and assumed correctly, — that the freshmen would get much more burn in these exhibitions than could be expected in the regular season. So while Porter’s performance in China was encouraging, the jury was still out on just how much on-court impact the Georgetown faithful could expect from the skinny forward in his first season, especially given the lack of media hype and highlight reels of his high school days.
Thompson III knew better. The eighth-year head coach gave Porter major minutes from the start and repeatedly referred to him during the season as “the most prepared freshman I’ve ever coached.”