PHILADELPHIA — Before his Georgetown Hoyas left for their trip to China in the summer of 2011, coach John Thompson III began to see what he had in Otto Porter Jr.
"Ooh, he's got a chance to be pretty good, really good," Thompson recalled.
The rest of the world, Thompson figures, got clued in on Otto when he scored 33 points at Syracuse on Feb. 23, Georgetown's ninth win in a row. But well before that point, the sophomore made a difference in the Hoyas' season, helping make up for the loss of the suspended Greg Whittington and emerging as a Player of the Year candidate.
"You kind of take it upon yourself to pick up the energy, pick up the team, to get wins," Porter said Thursday, a day before second-seeded Georgetown was set to face 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the second round of the NCAA tournament. "That's what I think I did to help this team win is pick up the intensity and my energy."
Porter turned that intensity and energy into a team-leading 16.3 points a game as the Hoyas won a share of the Big East regular-season title and entered the tournament ranked No. 8 in the country.
"Obviously, when we suffered Greg's loss, Otto had to step up in terms of scoring and all that stuff," junior forward Nate Lubick said. "Statistically you see that he's improved so much."
That's only part of Porter's impressive season.
As Thompson pointed out, "The layman has a tendency to look at the stat sheet and start talking about points." Porter's all-around value to Georgetown is hard to measure.
"He's done a lot for us, a volume player," freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera said. "I think throughout the year, his game has evolved. ... He has become more assertive in a lot of ways: rebounding, defending. You can say that about our whole team, but he was definitely a key part of it."
Porter was never just a scorer. Certainly not in the eyes of his coach.
"During the recruiting process, I knew we were getting a player that was extremely versatile, that I thought would be able to have success in a lot of different areas on the basketball court, at both ends of the basketball court," Thompson said. "He's continued to progress; he's gotten better."
With that progression, Porter was named Big East Player of the Year and made a strong case for the John R. Wooden Award as the nation's top player.
Just like their coach, his teammates are quick to point out that Porter's season isn't just about offensive production.
"He's done an unbelievable job on the defensive end of the floor," Lubick said. "He usually has the task of guarding the other team's wing scorer. He has a complete job assignment ahead of him every single day. He does everything for this team, and he's been unbelievable."
Porter's development has been aided by the veteran presence of junior guard Markel Starks, Georgetown's second leading scorer, and the kind of balance the Hoyas can possess on offense when Lubick and Smith-Rivera are clicking, too.
Having that strong, consistent core is one reason players are confident this group can avoid another upset and early NCAA tournament exit, like losing to No. 11 seed N.C. State last season, No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth in 2012 or No. 14 seed Ohio in 2010.
"I think that we got a group of guys that really understand each other, on and off the court," sophomore guard Jabril Trawick said. "We're a very confident team. We think we can beat any team in the country, and we're ready to play whoever. I think that's the difference."
Porter's emergence has a lot to do with that confidence. He considers himself a leader, along with Starks and Lubick, but fills that role in a quiet fashion.
"Some guys who have that green light, they're a little more vocal," Lubick said. "I don't want to say cocky, but it's a little more blatant than it is with Otto. That's kind of just his personality. He's all about this team and he's all about winning."
That was obvious Thursday at Wells Fargo Center before Georgetown took the court for its final practice before facing Florida Gulf Coast. Porter brushed off talk about his Player of the Year season.
"Once the tournament starts, all that doesn't matter," Porter said. "It's a matter of getting team wins and advancing in the tournament."
For the Hoyas to advance not just this weekend but deep into the tournament, they will more than likely need Porter to keep up his season pace. Given the consistency he has displayed, that wouldn't be at all surprising.
"Nothing surprises me. He's a person that can control a game in many different facets," Thompson said. "He's a special, special player."
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