- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2015

Envisioning is the foundation of dreams. Being on a stage, yanking down a hat, shaking the commissioner’s hand. The small version of Bobby Portis thought about those staples of draft night in the NBA. He watched on TV in Little Rock, Arkansas and filled his head with pictures of his feet on the stage after his name was called.

When June 25 arrives, Portis should have his moment in Brooklyn, New York. He’s 6-foot-11 now, and the SEC player of the year. Just 20 years old, what’s to come can still tantalize and what has happened provides a baseline for draft deciders. That will be enough to have him summoned to the Barclays Center stage by commissioner Adam Silver. He’ll pull on the stiff-brimmed hat of his new employer, tower over Silver and smile.

“All kids dream about being there and wanting to shake the commissioner’s hand and putting that hat on and smiling at the camera, so it’s something I want to do, too,” Portis said.

Containing laughter became an unexpected part of Portis’ visit to Washington on Monday when he was in town for a pre-draft workout with the Wizards. Running the floor, trying to show range and displaying versatility were things Portis wanted to accomplish during his work for a team that could use a multi-faceted, young power forward. When he explained he had two suits — colors and stylings to be revealed — available for draft night, Portis concluded he would look “spiffy” for the evening. He also found that wildly entertaining, unable to stop the laughter after the self-assessment of his projected dapperness.

During his two seasons of trying to yank a once flashy and lethal Arkansas program out of the muck, Portis became noted for his playing spirit. He had enough skill to be named a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, then become the SEC freshman of the year before his ascension to being the league’s marquee player. He revved and roared his way through two years with the Razorbacks, pulling pieces of Kevin Garnett into his game.

“It kind of comes from within,” Portis said of his outward displays.

Portis’ decision to go to Arkansas was not light or simple. Archie Goodwin, also from Little Rock, had shirked the Razorbacks the year before when he chose Kentucky over home. Next was Portis, who worked himself into All-American status as he grew in high school a year later. The Razorbacks had hired Mike Anderson as their coach in 2011, and he said Monday that visiting Portis, though still in high school at the time, was his “first plan of action.”

Anderson convinced Portis to help resuscitate Arkansas’ fledgling program, which had not been to the NCAA tournament since 2008. The decision to do so pressured Portis. Anderson tried to help him along. Luckily for the program, Portis’ progress was swift.

“Everyone looked at him as the savior of our program,” Anderson said. “But, I wanted him to go at his own pace. I wanted to take the pressure from him. His pace was second-team all-SEC as a freshman. Really, he was one of my hardest-working players.”

Arkansas returned to the tournament last season when Portis averaged 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.2 assists and 1.6 turnovers per game. He shot 53.6 percent from the field, a solid 73.7 percent at the free-throw line and, in just 30 attempts, 46.7 percent from behind the 3-point line.

The latter two percentages may be more telling about his NBA future than the other numbers. A love affair with the “stretch four” is not subsiding within the league. If Portis can become a power forward with a consistent 3-point shot, his services will be in demand.

“Picking and popping, that’s something I can do,” Portis said.

During the last three years, Portis has gained 30 pounds. More will be needed. His freshman season at Arkansas, he was “pushed around,” according to Anderson. Portis agreed with that take on Monday. Since, he said, he has matured mentally and physically. His college coach is intrigued to see what happens the first time Portis is mashed in the NBA.

“I think as he goes up there and goes against men he’s going to get challenged,” Anderson said. “I mentioned to him, ‘I’d love to be there the first time you go through there and somebody just knocks you right in the head, hits you in the throat, [to] see what you’re going to do.’ If I know him, he’s going to get up and he’s going to come right back at him. He’s driven.”

“I feel like when I get into the league, there’s going to be things I obviously have to adjust to, but that’s just basketball,” Portis said. “Everything isn’t peaches and cream.”

Portis has two workouts remaining; one with the Milwaukee Bucks and another with the Atlanta Hawks. His visit to the Wizards, which he admitted made him tired before he found a second wind, was his ninth workout.

“It’s been a crazy ride,” Portis said. “It’s more business than anything. Just coming in here and trying to show my best.”

The Wizards have the 19th pick in the draft. Portis believes his draft range to be somewhere between No. 8 and No. 20, though projections have his downside more in the mid-20s and his starting point just outside of the lottery.

Power forward is a veteran-filled position for the Wizards. Nene is 32 years old and entering the final year of his contract. Drew Gooden is a free agent who may return. Paul Pierce, used at power forward in the playoffs, is still deciding if he will use a player option to rejoin the Wizards. Kris Humphries has two more modestly priced years remaining on his contract.

That makes Portis a sensible option for strong consideration by the Wizards. If he ends up in D.C., he can wear the suit he didn’t opt for on draft night, shake hands with the owner and smile for the camera. No more dreaming will be necessary.

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