- - Thursday, November 8, 2012

The tale surrounding Otto Porter’s arrival at Georgetown seems to have grown more florid with each passing day, to the point where one might believe the Hoyas magically unearthed a rebounding machine from the middle of nowhere and inserted him into the starting lineup of a Big East contender without anyone in the college basketball world knowing what hit them.

And while Porter did fly oh-so-slightly under the radar while winning state championships at tiny Scott County Central in sleepy Sikeston, Mo., don’t think for a second that a cadre of eagle-eyed coaches wasn’t clamoring for his services.

“At the end of the day, Otto’s final list came down to Georgetown, Missouri and Kansas, so it’s not like he was not known,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said.

Still, it took a while for everyone in the Big East to get up to speed to what Porter could do, much to the Hoyas’ delight.

“He kind of got overlooked a little bit [last year],” said DePaul coach Oliver Purnell, who saw Porter torch his team for 15 rebounds in a January loss. “He was able to grow and develop, and he took full advantage of it. He’s a guy who kind of surprised us with his ability to affect our game. But I don’t think he’s going to surprise anybody anymore.”

Now a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 Porter is the centerpiece of what should be another intriguing season on the Hilltop. Gone is the veteran presence of upperclassmen Jason Clark, Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson. The team that tips off the season Friday aboard the USS Bataan against No. 10 Florida in the Navy-Marine Corps Classic in Jacksonville, Fla., features just two juniors who have seen significant playing time. That puts pressure on Porter to play above his years.

“I just have to continue to play and be myself,” he said. “I know that last year Jason and Henry were in the middle of everything that Georgetown did, and I just tried to take the pressure off them. This year, I’m going to do something different and bring something else to the table.

“It’s a team. There’s no ‘I’ in team. I’m trying to look at it as I can help the other guys get going.”

Porter averaged 9.7 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds, while connecting on more than 52 percent of his shots. That wasn’t good enough to earn him a spot on the Big East All-Rookie squad, but in the offseason, Porter’s stock skyrocketed as he was named an Associated Press preseason honorable mention All-American and to the conference first team. Porter’s name is even popping up on NBA mock drafts for next year.

“He is a special, special player,” said his coach. “Not only is he one of the better players in this conference, he’s one of the better players in the country.

Otto cares about and excels in every aspect of the game of basketball. He’s not engrossed with my points, my shot, my touches.”

Porter’s small-town roots are apparent, as he isn’t entirely comfortable with the spotlight off the court. On it, however, the Hoyas are confident that his game will speak loud and clear.

“He works extremely hard and brings it every day,” junior guard Markel Starks said. “And people will be able to see what he can really do other than getting garbage points and rebounds. People will be able to see his skill level, which is very high. And he has a very high basketball IQ. You definitely will see what OP is capable of.”

While Starks and junior forward Nate Lubick look to live up to their expectations, and sophomores Greg Whittington and Jabril Trawick build on their solid college debuts, it’s Porter who will draw the most attention from Big East coaches as they game plan for the Hoyas.

“He’s one of the blossoming young, great players in our league,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “He’s one of those great stories in college basketball. Guys that are, ‘Ehh, he may be a pretty good player,’ and boom, he explodes.”

Thompson has assembled a brutal schedule, one that features matchups with UCLA and potentially No. 1 Indiana in the Legends Classic at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., then Tennessee and Texas before the heart of Big East play begins.

“It made sense in July,” he said with a smile. “It’s tough. It’s tough for a young squad. The thought process was, this conference is tough, and you have to be ready for conference play. I think we have the answers, but we have to figure out and learn about ourselves and how is the best way for this group to win, so we have to get tested early.”

Porter passed one test last year, going from relative obscurity to the rigors of the Big East. Now he and the Hoyas are ready to prove that youth will not be a hindrance to another NCAA tournament run.

“Our team is very confident in what we’re going to be able to do this year,” Porter said. “We’re young, and that’s a good thing.”

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