Portland Trail Blazers all-time great Terry Porter has been the head coach of the University of Portland Pilots men’s basketball team for 224 days. Just one remains until his official game debut. After months of preparation, the Pilots host the UC Riverside Highlanders for their season opener at the Chiles Center tomorrow night.
This marks the beginning of Porter’s first season coaching at the collegiate level. Having previously coached the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, as well as served as an assistant coach for various other organizations at the professional level, he is hopeful that his newest pupils will take on some NBA flare.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of things that they have not played in regards to the style, in regards to the terminology, in regards to defensive schemes that we’re going to probably implement, so it’s always a process.” Porter told Blazer’s Edge. “Whenever you start something new, the obstacle is just not being familiar with how we’re going to respond to certain situations in a game, so right now I think that’s the unknown.”
Following landslide exhibition victories over Multnomah and Evergreen State, the opener will be an ideal opportunity for Porter to gauge the Pilots’ true growth and how much growing they have left to do.
With only three seniors on the roster, the Pilots will have to lean heavily on veteran point guard Alec Wintering this year. Wintering averaged a team-high 18.3 points and 4.9 assists in 2015-16, and notched 20+ in each of the aforementioned preseason outings. He is the on-court leader of this team.
“Playing on this team has been great,” says Wintering. “I’ve been here three years, going into my fourth year. I’ve enjoyed all my teammates. I’ve enjoyed beating BYU, Gonzaga, St. Mary’s in the WCC tournament. It’s just been a great ride so far. Being a leader on the team, I think my job is just to get everybody ready to go. Kind of knowing my teammates, knowing what they need from me to bring the best out of them.”
As Wintering suggests, the coming season will not be an individual effort. Coach Porter has preached a team-first culture since day one, 223 days ago. If the Pilots are going to excel with Porter’s guidance, they will have to do so as a unit.
“Everything’s changing,” says junior shooting guard D’Marques Tyson. “I’m excited to be a part of the change and be a part of this team.”
Tyson is expected to be another pillar of the team’s offense this year, and may be in line to carry Wintering’s mantle in his senior season. He will be tremendously important to Porter’s efforts, as one of the most prominent players expected to carry over into the next season of retooling, along with sophomore point guard Jazz Johnson and Junior forward Gabe Taylor.
Tomorrow night is surely a test for them as well. In the past year, the program with which they are familiar has undergone a massive overhaul. How will they adjust to the new personnel and new style of play? Porter is optimistic that the work they have all put in will translate into success on the court tomorrow, as well as in the long-term.
“The games themselves are going to tell us a lot more than practice. When you get thrust into a game setting, things happen a little bit faster. It’s going to be important to see how they adjust from game-to-game and how they are able to transfer from what we do in practice into the game.”
The Pilots put together a 12-20 season under former head coach Eric Reveno last year, so the measuring stick is favorable for Porter right now, despite a dearth of upperclassmen. The hour is near for him to take the first major step of his collegiate coaching journey. Will he take the Pilots to new heights?