The University of Portland’s men’s basketball team is looking up following head coach Terry Porter’s tough season last year. The coaching staff and players are optimistic about turning things around and ending the losing culture of Portland’s basketball program.
By the time the 2016-17 year finished, three seniors had graduated, and five other players had left looking for different opportunities. The team has had to almost completely rebuild itself in Porter’s second season with UP. Now, the young team has added eight new players, including a four-year transfer, two junior transfers and a mix of five talented freshmen, all contributing to a recruiting class that was ranked No. 10 in the nation by Hoop Scoop.
“The new guys, I think collectively, it’s a great group of kids,” Porter said, “I think this group has good speed, good shooting, good athleticism, good size...I’m excited about what they’re bringing: the energy they bring and their work ethic.”
The team started relatively strong last season. The Pilots had a winning record of 9-8, until their game against San Francisco when Alec Wintering — who was often referred to as the backbone of the team — tore his ACL and ended his career. The team struggled to recover, and finished yet another disappointing season with an overall record of 11-22, matching the record losing streak of UP basketball.
“We just couldn’t fill those shoes,” head coach Terry Porter said. “So, that was just one of those tough things in sports when you lose one of your key guys to a season-ending injury. You just don’t have enough depth to kind of fill that void. We just didn’t have it.”
In order to get the new and old players bonding and working together as a team, the basketball program traveled to London over the summer. They participated in a series of practices and scrimmages against teams ranging from high school level to professional level. The foreign tour ended with a 3-1 record, and gave the Pilots an opportunity to learn their new team dynamic and capitalize off of the highly ranked recruiting class in hopes for a more successful season.
“When you add a top ten recruiting class, and you add depth and talent, we should be better,” assistant coach Bob Cantu said. “We’re hoping to at least achieve being competitive in the middle of the conference.”
Players from last year are excited about their new teammates, as well. The hope is that the young additions will bring a fresh energy to the team, which might finally save the school’s basketball program from its cycle of mediocrity.
“I see that a lot of the young guys have a lot of potential,” junior Rashad Jackson said. “I feel like we’ve got a lot of weapons, but we’re just a little young right now. But for years to come, I think we’ll be really good.”
The young athletes have a tough season ahead of them, facing rival teams such as the Gonzaga Bulldogs — who just made it to the national championships — and Saint Mary’s, both of which made it to the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and contributed to UP’s extended losing streak. UP will also face national champion University of North Carolina on Thanksgiving Day in the first annual PK80 tournament in Portland on ESPN.
The Portland Pilots have competed in two exhibition games — beating Lewis & Clark and losing to Eastern Washington — and lost their regular season game against PSU. They will play their second home game tomorrow, Nov. 14, against Walla Walla at 7:30pm.