I just continue to be myself, continue to play my game, eventually people… (Alex Brandon/AP )
CHICAGO – For Otto Porter Jr., being a top NBA draft pick would justify the summers when he woke up early to run or ride his bike, built strength by carrying wood and doing other household chores, played pickup basketball with his cousins on a rickety court at his late grandmother’s home and borrowed the keys from his father to spend countless hours at the high school gym.
“I think hard work pays off and you’re finally getting benefit from working all these nights and hours that you put into your game,” said Porter, who declared for the draft last month after a stellar sophomore season at Georgetown. “It’s rewarding.”
Overlooked by college recruiters because of his unusual, under-the-radar path, Porter is accustomed to drawing delayed reactions. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he isn’t rattled by the common refrain from NBA scouts and executives that the 2013 draft class is one of the weakest in recent memory.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Porter said Thursday at the NBA draft combine. “People can say what their opinions are, at the end of the day, it’s how you want to go. Knowing that there is nobody that’s a superstar like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, the window is open for anybody. It’s just unlimited what you can do.”
Coming from Porter — a player who spent his summers working out at home in tiny Sikeston, Mo., rather than participate in the AAU circuit and didn’t consider entering the NBA draft until his remarkable sophomore campaign unfolded on the Hilltop — the response hardly comes off as hollow or defiant. That’s simply how it goes for the 6-foot-8 forward who pushes to set his own standards.
“I just continue to be myself, continue to play my game. Eventually people are going to start noticing how I play,” said Porter, who averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season as he became Georgetown’s first consensus first-team all-American since Allen Iverson. Porter was also the unanimous choice as Big East player of the year and led the Hoyas to a 27-5 record and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said he would draft Porter first overall and dubbed him the best all-around player ever to come through the Big East — which Porter called “the ultimate compliment.” Porter is projected to be among the top five players selected in the June 27 draft, which would mean that the Washington Wizards would likely have to win one of the top three choices in Tuesday’s NBA draft lottery to have a chance to select him.
The Wizards have the eighth-best odds at winning the top overall choice but could slide as far back as 11th. They still plan to meet with Porter, who is friends with Bradley Beal, a first-team member of the NBA’s all-rookie team for the Wizards this past season and a fellow Missouri native. Beal tried unsuccessfully to recruit Porter to his AAU team in high school but has kept tabs of his career and called him one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft.
“Otto is very versatile,” Beal said recently. “He can rebound his position, score the ball, play good defense. He was definitely at a great system at Georgetown that I think did a great job at preparing him for the next level.”
Porter, who compares himself to wiry and multifaceted Memphis Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince, has been training at McDonough Arena on Georgetown’s campus since the season ended and has received advice from former Hoya and current Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe. Porter won’t do any individual workouts with teams until the draft order has been determined but has already met with Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Phoenix.
Porter had several memorable performances last season, including a dominant 33-point effort in the Hoyas’ victory at Syracuse, but he remains motivated by Georgetown’s stunning first-round loss to 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, in which he scored just 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting.
“It has helped. Obviously, you can get better each and every day,” Porter said when asked if the loss serves as motivation. “We didn’t play our best game my last game but I wanted to, coming from there, learn from my mistakes and get better.”
Porter decided to enter the draft after speaking with Georgetown Coach John Thompson III and former coach John Thompson Jr. a few days before the deadline to declare.
“We talked a lot and he felt that I was ready for the NBA and I felt like I was ready, too. It was basically my decision and I talked to my mom and my dad and they felt I was at the top of my game,” he said. “I didn’t enter the year thinking about the NBA. It was very tough, my decision. I didn’t think I would come out this early at the beginning of the year, but as the year progressed. We started having success, winning 10, 11 games in a row, I thought it was possible for me.”
Porter added that he has no regrets about being home-schooled on basketball rather than following his peers. “I think it was an advantage for me, staying on, working on my skills a lot more and just being disciplined. With my dad helping, getting better, getting stronger and I just went with that,” Porter said. “It was more me, not wanting to go that route. I had cousins and friends who went the AAU route and I figured that I could just stay home and work on my game and exposure would come later once teams see that I can play and see that I have talent.”
When asked what he missed out by taking that path, Porter said: “The hype. That’s probably the only thing.”
Porter has no plans to get caught up in that.