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.”

And the more court time Porter saw, the more he impressed. He busted open two-three zones with his automatic midrange jumper. He led the team in rebounding despite coming off the bench for most of the year. He helped break full-court presses when the guards got in trouble.

But the star freshman’s most significant contributions may have come on the other end of the floor. His quick feet, 7-foot-1 wingspan and strong defensive instincts allowed him to guard four positions effectively. Aided by classmate Greg Whittington, Porter wreaked havoc on the wings of a smothering two-three zone, and the duo’s versatility allowed Thompson III to experiment with nontraditional lineups. By the end of the year, Georgetown was regularly starting four players that stood 6-foot-8 or taller.

“We have several guys that are 6-foot-8, 6-foot-9 that can guard guards, guard little guys, guard medium guys, guard big guys,” Thompson III said after Georgetown’s victory over Belmont in the NCAA tournament, presumably referring to Porter and Whittington. “And they’re willing to do it. It’s not just the gifts that God has given them. It’s a desire. It’s attention to detail. It’s caring about getting stops.”

Porter was neither as smooth as Hollis Thompson or Austin Freeman, nor as flashy as Chris Wright or Allen Iverson. But he was so undeniably efficient on offense and versatile on defense that by the time he broke into the starting lineup in late February, Porter had earned the trust of teammates and fans alike.

Few were surprised, then, when it was Porter who took the last shot of regulation when Georgetown was down two to Cincinnati in the Big East quarterfinals. The Hoyas ended up losing that game in double overtime, but the freshman’s poise against the Bearcats — in addition to his 20-point effort in a second-round win over Pittsburgh — left no doubt about who would be the star next season.

INTO THE SPOTLIGHT

Porter’s role as a team leader became all the more apparent at the end of March, when Thompson declared for the NBA Draft as a junior. With no seniors on the 2012-2013 roster and juniors Markel Starks and Nate Lubick coming off shaky seasons, Georgetown would be counting on the rising sophomore to become the centerpiece of the offense and a leader in the locker room. For the Hoyas to have a chance at building on their success, Porter needed to spend the summer preparing to put the team on his back.

So, in a move that should shock nobody, Porter went home.

After the end of classes and before the beginning of summer camps, Sikeston’s favorite son returned. The question was whether or not he would still be the same humble guy.

“Oh, yeah,” Wright said. “And of course, you can tell he’s definitely grown up. … He’s just got his goals in mind. That’s what he’s always had.”

Even after all the hype and all the pressure of inheriting a high-level Division I basketball team, Porter made time to attend Scott Central baseball games, shoot the breeze with his old high school coach and sign autographs for adoring fans.

After the brief respite in Sikeston, though, it was back to the grind for the workmanlike forward. He put up huge numbers in this summer’s Kenner League games and was a model leader for the freshman-heavy Tombs squad. He received rave reviews at the Kevin Durant and LeBron James Skills Academies, where he reportedly showed drastic improvement in outside shooting, the one inconsistent dimension of his game last season. His name floated even further up mock draft boards.

“Everything that was a weakness, I tried working on,” Porter said. “I went to the camps, and they actually taught me how to shoot from distance, and it helped set up the shots a little bit.”

But although Porter may have assuaged doubts about his ability as a team leader and as a perimeter threat — he went through shooting drills with the guards in the season’s first open practice — questions will remain about his ability to shoulder the scoring load until the Hoyas step onto the court Nov. 9. For all his talent, Porter was never the first or even second scoring option last year. He was the Swiss Army knife, the ultimate garbage man, the guy that scored off broken plays and offensive rebounds while defenses were focused on seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims.

This year, he’ll have to be more than that. If the Hoyas are to be truly feared, Porter needs to consistently be the guy that his teammates look to and opposing defenses dread when the shot clock is running down in an elimination game.

We won’t know for sure whether he can do that until this winter. But if his coaches and peers are to be believed, he’s not one to bet against.

“It’s something you can definitely see,” Wright said. “He’s gotten an opportunity, and he’s going to take every chance to fulfill that opportunity that he’s got.”

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