After several years of NBA coaching, Trail Blazers all-time great Terry Porter returned to Portland with his family in 2014, happy to re-enter the community that embraced him on draft day nearly 30 years before. Porter, 53, gave a full decade of his historic playing career to Portland, even doing TV work for the Blazers in between coaching jobs after retirement. He loves the city, and the city loves him. It has been that way for as long as many fans can remember.
He was quickly re-assimilated into the organization upon his latest arrival, participating in charity events and acting as the team’s alumni ambassador, having previously served as team ambassador from 2009-2011. The role was familiar and satisfying. However, while the Blazers we now know began to carve a new path, Porter would soon follow suit as an opportunity to play a different part in the Portland community knocked more loudly.
On March 15, 2016, the University of Portland Pilots fired longtime men’s basketball coach Eric Reveno after a disappointing end to a 12-20 season. Although Reveno had experienced relative success in his decade of coaching the small school (140-178), it was time for a change. The team was never able to reach the NCAA tournament under his direction.
Porter, a former NBA star with a combined nine years of experience as a head coach and assistant coach at the professional level, topped UP’s list of candidates to replace Reveno, says Associate Athletic Director Jason Brough:
"After our head coaching position came up, we did a national search and there was mutual interest for an interview between our administration and Terry. He was the first person we met with. Terry was highly recommended for the position from various third parties and folks in the NBA and NCAA basketball scene."
Porter had long desired to coach at the collegiate level. Now able to do so in his preferred environment and without relocating his family, he was eager to consider UP’s offer. Seeing an ideal situation, he accepted the position on April 1, 2016.
"I think it’s a great fit," Porter told Blazer’s Edge. "First and foremost, I live here. It’s a place where I call home. In regards to the program they have here and the facilities they have here, I think they are very quality, high-scale type of facilities for a university. I just really enjoyed everything about how it fits and how I could help this university help the basketball program."
This is thrilling new territory for Porter, who has never coached at the college level, much less at a university during a rebuild. His name alone will have some power to revitalize the program, piquing the interest of new recruits in years to come, but he still has to prove that it is worth something in this setting. Yet, what he lacks in specific experience—NBA pedigree aside—he makes up for in relatability to his players.
Porter attended a small school himself, playing four seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point from 1981-1985. He was named an NAIA first-team all-American twice over and led the Pointers to the NAIA championship his junior year to cap off a 28-4 record under storied head coach Dick Bennett. Porter still keeps in touch with his enormously successful college coach today, describing him as an incredible influence.
"(Bennett) recruited me out of high school and I played for him for four years at the University of Stevens Point," Porter said. "To this day, he is still someone who I’m very close to. We’ve had a great relationship: coach, player, and now pretty much mentor, coach, and friend. I really have grown to care a lot for him and what he’s been able to do for my career as a player but also help mold me to the man I am.
"We do stay in close contact. I’ve talked to him more recently now that I’ve taken on this new role because he’s had so much experience in the college ranks and I have very little. From that standpoint, I’ve talked to him a lot about just the different types of things that he has done over those many years of college (coaching), going to try to rebuild a new program, some of things he tried to do, how he tried to establish his culture, what was the type of player he tried to look for, and so I’ve really picked his brain on a lot of those subjects."
Despite this uncharted venture with the Pilots, Porter is far from flying blind. His journey as a player, experience as a coach, and the advice of his mentor should suffice as guidance in the competitive but struggling West Coast Conference. Only one team in 10 (Gonzaga) made the NCAA tournament in 2015-16. The Pilots aspire to break in under Porter’s tutelage in the near future, understanding that success does not come overnight—even with a prestigious leader. The team last appeared in the tournament in 1996.
Now more than five months into his new role, Porter seeks to establish a culture before the season begins this fall. There was very little roster turnover after the coaching change, and the players are prepared to buy in.
"I think it’s great that they all have really been excited about the change, have been excited about the opportunities to learn something new, learn a new system, and go out and try to execute it." Porter affirmed. "My culture is obviously about the team first. It’s about playing an unselfish brand of basketball, really trusting each other, and having that camaraderie. I’ve been blessed to be on some really good teams and so I take from those own personal experiences, things I want to share with them and let them understand how important it is to build that type of camaraderie among yourselves, knowing that when you’re faced with some adversity throughout the season, you can rely on each other to really help each other get through it."
Apart from wins and losses, Porter’s success in his first year at UP will be measured on the two-way street of community involvement. He is exceptional at community outreach, but can he get Portland to rally behind the university and become invested in the team? With their support, the team will have optimal conditions to thrive.
This is not lost on Porter, who has valued the fans at every stage of his career. It is a notion that the Blazers community is especially attuned to; win or lose, unity matters.
"It’s very important that we stay connected to the community. Pilot nation is something that is very important to us, something we always want to stay connected with and, along with the Portland community, want to get them out supporting our program, supporting our young men, and helping us build a successful program."
This is his vision.