Cumberland Times-News

June 28, 2013

Wizards’ Porter comfortable on home turf

BENJAMIN STANDIG
Associated Press

— WASHINGTON — Otto Porter’s NBA career begins on familiar turf, or rather, hardwood.

The small forward who led Georgetown to a share of the Big East regular-season title played his college home games at the Verizon Center, the arena owned by the Wizards’ franchise.

The Wizards hope their first-round pick helps take them to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

The Hoyas’ locker room is halfway down the hall from Wizards’ version. Porter’s introductory press conference on Friday, the day after Washington selected him No. 3 overall, was in a room adjacent to where the Hoyas meet with the media postgame. Only a short commute was required for John Thompson III, Porter’s coach at Georgetown, to see his latest player enter the pro ranks.

The proximity benefits between the two basketball programs certainly helped Wizards coach Randy Wittman.

“He’s really the only player I saw live,” Wittman said.

“I don’t get a chance to see college players play live because we’re always playing. I’m a gym rat. If there is a game at the Verizon Center, I’m going to stick my head in there.”

Clearly, Wittman and Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld liked what they saw. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-8 Porter led the Hoyas in scoring (16.2), rebounds (7.5), steals (1.8) and 3-point shooting (42.2), though his best effort may have come on the defensive end.

“We were able to target a player that we wanted in this draft and we were fortunate that he was available to us,” Grunfeld said. “He’s very versatile, he has great character, he’s a hard worker, came from a winning program, can guard multiple positions, and he’s a winner.”

On Thursday, shortly after selected by Washington, Porter said of his new team, “We’re going to do damage next year.”

Grunfeld clearly liked the sound of that optimism.

“We said our goal is to make the playoffs and I was glad to see some of his quotes last night after he got drafted,” said a grinning Grunfeld. “He’s ready to fulfill that goal of ours. We’re ready for him to get started.”

The small town kid from Missouri became Georgetown’s first AP first-team All-American since Allen Iverson and the highest-drafted Hoyas player since Iverson went No. 1 overall in 1996.

“I’m blessed to be in this position and I can’t wait to play,” Porter said, a Wizards hat adorning his head. As for not having to change location, he noted, “It just makes my transition a lot easier.”

Though Porter excelled throughout his sophomore campaign with the Hoyas, he truly joined the national conversation on Feb. 23 by scoring 33 points in Georgetown’s victory at Syracuse. That was also the moment the player himself began believing his NBA dreams could come true.

“I had a big game and thought, ‘Wow, this could actually happen,”’ Porter said.

Grunfeld didn’t indicate when he first envisioned Porter as a high lottery selection or potential fit for the Wizards’ plan. What he believes now is the just turned 20-year-old can be part of the team’s playoff push.

“(Porter) adds to what we already have, a very solid backcourt with John Wall and Bradley Beal. He’ll be a very good complement in the frontcourt to those players. And they’re all very young,” Grunfeld said.

With Wall injured and Beal learning the NBA game, the Wizards began last season 4-28. Fueled by its talented and youthful backcourt —Wall is 22 and Beal turned 20 on Friday — Washington rebounded with a 25-25 finish.

The Wizards entered the offseason without a long-term fit at small forward. Last season Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza formed an effective offense-defense combination. Ariza recently opted into the final year of his contract while Webster, who posted career highs in scoring (11.4) and 3-point shooting (42.2), is a free agent.

Now another young talent joins the mix, one taught the past two years by Thompson.

Asked how Porter fits with the Wizards, Thompson said, “We keep using this word ‘versatile.’ What that means is whatever the coach wants of him, he’ll be able to do, to complement the pieces already here. They have a very good young nucleus and so the future is bright.”