- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Among the generational talent that blesses this city, from Bryce Harper smacking baseballs around the Grapefruit League to Robert Griffin III tearing through the rehabilitation for his wounded right knee, is a much quieter name.

Otto Porter Jr. can wander through Washington without being recognized and Georgetown’s sophomore small forward doesn’t seem to mind. Washington’s anonymous star has bigger things on his mind than, well, anonymity.

On a rainy afternoon a few days back, Porter stood under the harsh lights at McDonough Gymnasium. Perfect posture. Hands clasped behind his back. Gently swaying from side to side. Calm.

Every word and gesture seemed smooth. That word follows Porter on the court or off. Smooth.

No tension or hesitation or bravado. Instead, Porter spoke in a soft and even voice that belied the eye-opening season he’s assembled for the seventh-ranked Hoyas.

Porter thrust himself into conversation for national player of the year honors, along with Michigan’s Trey Burke and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, after depositing 33 points, eight rebounds and five steals against Syracuse last week. Those NBA draft projections that pop up like puddles in Georgetown’s parking lots peg Porter as a top-10 pick come June. Maybe even top three. That could make him the highest-drafted Georgetown player since the Boston Celtics selected Jeff Green with the fifth pick in 2007.

Porter swallowed an embarrassed smile and acknowledged the predictions with a matter-of-fact nod.

Twenty-five NBA jerseys adorn a far wall, an ever-present reminder of the Hoyas’ deep NBA connections.

That’s not what he’s focused on. Not now. Winning matters. Maybe that’s cliche to some. The sort of thing athletes are supposed to say when public relations minders linger within earshot. Not Porter. Not close.

“Otto Porter is every day. He’s steady,” coach John Thompson III said. “He honestly doesn’t care. He wants to win. I can say that as much as any player I’ve had. All that comes along, all the attention he’s getting, he wants to win. You see it in his play every day.”

On the court, Porter glides around thanks to impossibly long strides and fills up statistics sheets. He doesn’t demand the basketball but moves around the court and has the uncanny knack to be in the right place at the right time. After spending much of his freshman season as the team’s sixth man, he’s started every game this time around and shouldered more of the load since academic issues sidelined third-leading scorer Greg Whittington 13 games into the season.

“Player of the year. That’s all I can say. You want to get him the ball,” freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said. “There’s nothing no one can do about him.”

Porter shoots jumpers and pokes away steals and slashes to the basket and snags rebounds like there’s some sort of magnetic attraction.

Those rebounds aren’t so unusual for Porter. At tiny Scott County Central High School in Missouri, he grabbed 35 rebounds in the state championship game to break the school record set by his father, Otto Sr. The youngster skipped the big-time world of summer AAU basketball in high school and, instead, learned to compete against his family.

“That’s probably the toughest competition I played against in my life,” Porter said.

Every few questions, he threw in an aw-shucks shrug.

Porter is quick to brush aside his season and, at one point, made certain to single out three teammates who don’t see significant game action as critical parts of the young, defensive-minded group.

He looked inquisitors in the eye, then stared pensively at the floor as he formulated a response and nodded as he answered, as if he agreed with himself.

“This team has learned any given night,” Porter said, “it can be someone else.”

That’s not an act or far removed from his unadorned roots in Morley, Mo. — population 696. He’s not one to be distracted by bluster about projections or predictions or, really, to do anything differently than he always has. What’s most remarkable about Porter, perhaps, is how little he’s changed from the high schooler Thompson reeled into Georgetown. That same off-court poise that makes him seem much older accompanies him onto the court.

“Humble, humble, humble,” Thompson said. “Genuine. … He’s not going to be different in any situation.”

Porter paused several seconds when asked if he’s noticed around the city.

“It’s been the same,” he said and delivered a sheepish grin.

“That’s going to change,” one reporter said.

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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