If you’re not familiar with Otto Porter, you’re not alone. Minutes after leading Georgetown to a 65-48 win over American University on a blustery December day in DC, Porter settles into a seat to the right of his head coach, John Thompson III, to meet the media.
A local reporter lobs the 6-8 soph a question, only there’s one problem: He addresses him as “Greg”—as in Greg Whittington, the other Hoya forward at the podium. There’s an awkward pause.
“This is Otto,” Thompson offers, with a nod in Porter’s direction.
Otto Porter may not be recognizable just yet, but come March, he will be. Through the non-conference portion of Georgetown’s ’12-13 campaign, Porter led the team in points (13.2), rebounds (7.7), assists (3.2), steals (2.2) and blocks (1.4) per game, guiding the Hoyas to a surprising 10-1 record out of the gate. Unranked coming into the season, GTown had shot up to No. 15 in the AP poll by New Year’s—the same spot the Hoyas occupy today.
And Porter’s turned things up a notch in Big East play, leading Georgetown to an 8-3 record so far, with his numbers settling at 15.3 ppg and 7.9 rpg for the year.
Surprised? That’s OK, because going unnoticed is the norm for Porter, despite a set of skills that has him slotted as a potential Lottery pick come June’s NBA Draft, should he choose to forego his final two years of college eligibility.
“I like being under the radar,” says Porter. “It means I’ve just got to prove each and every day that I belong out there on the court.”
Like the night he stole the spotlight from Shabazz Muhammad at the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last November, when Porter led Georgetown to a 78-70 upset of then-No. 11 ranked UCLA with a dazzling 18-point, 11-rebound, 5-assist, 5-block, 3-steal line to spoil Bazz’s primetime college debut.
He may not have eye-popping athleticism or a highlight reel with hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits, but Porter is one of the best college basketball players in the country, bar none. Which makes his unusual high school story that much more impressive. The Otto Porter hype machine has yet to go mainstream because it never started—Porter didn’t play a single minute of AAU basketball in high school.
A native of Morley, a small town in rural southeast Missouri, Porter played his in-season prep hoops at tiny Scott County Central, which has an enrollment of 171. The tallest kid by a mile, OP mostly played center for the Braves, and the farthest he and his teammates ever traveled for a game was a trip to Chicago, to face famed Simeon Academy.
And, rather than spend his summers crisscrossing the country with a sponsored AAU team, Porter fine-tuned his skills in high school and in his driveway, where he battled his uncles and his father, Otto Sr, in heated backyard games. That’s not only rare, it’s unheard of.
Porter admits that he lost out on some notoriety by not playing in the traditional summer circuit. “Probably the biggest disadvantage is just not getting the exposure with some of the top guys in the class, not playing in front of college coaches, scouts and all that,” he says. But he’s adamant that not playing AAU was the best decision for him.
“I was able to stick around and stick to a gym,” he explains. “I feel like I made the right choice to just stay home and polish up my skills.”
No one is happier than his current head coach. “I’ve said many times that he was the most prepared freshman that I’ve had,” Thompson told USA Today earlier this season. Focusing on the fundamentals of his game instead of playing glorified one-on-ones throughout the country has made Porter into a stat-stuffing Swiss army knife of a player.
He’s a great finisher. He’s unselfish. He’s an aggressive help defender. He plays the passing lanes. He’s vocal about getting his team in the right sets. When he talks about himself, Porter never mentions his scoring, electing instead to tout his hard work and love for the hustle play.
And all that fighting for position against older, stronger family members back in Missouri made him into a relentless rebounder. Otto’s senior year of high school, he posted 29 points and 35 rebounds in the state championship game, breaking the school’s record for career rebounds—previously held by his father—to help Scott County Central take home a third state crown. (This past Christmas, Jr sat out the Porter family run to avoid injury—“I kind of am, like, the referee.”)
Rich Chvotkin, long-time voice of the Hoyas, compares Porter’s game to a future Hall of Famer with a similarly fundamental game.
“He reminds me of Paul Pierce. Just strong, plays strong off the ball. He’s able to rebound, defend,” says Chvotkin, who remembers being impressed with Porter’s game early in his freshman year. “Otto was always around the ball. It was amazing to me, even in the first couple games, he’d be in the right place for rebounds, he knew how to dish, in terms of playing the point forward. And he had such a smart basketball IQ. I think that’s carried over this year.”
Five minutes into the Hoyas’ dismantling of the Eagles in the District, with former GTown standout and current Piston Greg Monroe watching, Porter has a three-pointer, a rebound, a steal that led to a transition bucket, and the Hoyas have a 15-6 lead. This, despite it feeling like he’s hardly touched the rock. He finishes with team-highs of 16 and 13.
American head coach Jeff Jones jokes postgame, “He’s not bad.”
“It’s funny because I’ve got this idea of Georgetown players over the years, since JTIII has been there,” Jones continues. “They’ve had really versatile players. To me, Otto Porter fits that mold. You can’t pin him as just a shooter or just a driver…a post man, an offensive rebounder. He’s all of those things.”
Indeed, Porter’s ability to influence a game without jaw-dropping stats or the pizzazz a casual fan looks for is unique. Says Thompson, “Whatever the numbers are, game in game out, night in night out, is not the sum total of his impact on what happens on the court.”
Which is why he’s on the NBA’s radar now. All Porter will say with regard to the next level is that he’ll cross that bridge at the appropriate hour. Hell, he’s still adjusting to college life in a big city. “It’s part of the process. Coming from a small place where I’m from, it’s a huge transition. And it happened so fast, that I just want to enjoy it right now,” he says.
If all goes well, Porter could, like Monroe, be visiting Verizon as a pro as soon as a year from now. Georgetown’s track record of sending talent to the L bodes well for his future, as does his familiar “Bubba” nickname—one that can’t help but conjure memories of the Hoyas’ original “Bubba Chuck,” Allen Iverson. For now, though, Otto will do. Get familiar.