From Stevens Point To Minnesota, Terry Porter Talks About His NBA Journey
The Wolves host the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night in their final regular season meeting of the 2013-14 season, and for assistant coach Terry Porter it’s the bridging of two organizations that played a role in where he is today. Porter played for the Wolves from 1995-98 and for the Spurs from 1999-2002, and after leaving San Antonio he got his first chance at being a coach in the NBA when he joined Rick Adelman’s staff as an assistant in Sacramento the following year.
In those three stops alone, Porter played under Flip Saunders (the Wolves’ current President of Basketball Operations) and Gregg Popovich (still the Spurs’ head coach) and was an assistant under Adelman (the Wolves’ current coach).
Terry Porter's Journey
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So as we get set for Tuesday’s game, Timberwolves.com’s John Focke spoke with Porter about how he got to this point—more specifically, what transpired that helped him go from South Division High School in Milwaukee to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to a first-round selection and NBA All-Star.
Everything that happened along the way led to him being in position to coach under Adelman here in Minnesota, and he’s grateful for all the people who helped him and believed in him along the way in his journey to the NBA.
It all started back in high school, where Porter said he wasn’t exactly a household name when it came to recruiting. He logged a lot of basketball hours on the playgrounds in pickup ballgames, but he didn’t join the high school varsity team until he was a junior and was initially a bench player. It wasn’t until his senior year when he caught the eye of one college coach—with the help of the coach’s wife—that set his basketball path in motion.
“I didn’t have a resume that oozed D-I offers…I didn’t have a lot of recruiters come see me play at that time,” Porter said. “When I got recruited to Stevens Point, it was really by accident. [Coach] Dick Bennett, who was there at the time, we were at a sectional game trying to work our way to state. He was there watching another kid. He was there to watch somebody else, and it was his wife who initially said, ‘You have to stop watching that No. 30 on that team and watch No. 30 on the other team.’ And that was me.”
Bennett, who would eventually go on to coach the University of Wisconsin in the Big Ten, gave Porter his chance at Stevens Point. By the time Porter left in 1985, he was the school’s all-time leading scorer (currently fifth with 1,585 points) and still ranks in the top five in several other individual categories. He was an NAIA First Team All-America selection as a junior and senior, and he averaged 16.7 points and 4.6 assists per game during his final three years with the Pointers. In 1984, he helped the Pointers finish as runners-up in the NAIA national tournament.
The Pointers had never won 20-plus games in a season prior to Porter arriving on campus. During his four years, they 23, 26, 29 and 25, respectively.
Along the way, Porter transformed from an 18-year-old kid who had no definite future basketball plans into a player invited to play at the 1984 Olympic Trials. There, he got the chance to play on the same court as Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, and others. He didn’t make that team, but he gained confidence he belonged in that group.
“Here I was with these kids me and my teammates on Stevens Point watched on the weekends: The North Carolinas, the Wayman Tisdales, the Charles Barkleys,” Porter said. “To be on the court with those guys was an unbelievable experience and very humbling for me. But it was also a way for me to test myself and see if I could play with these guys. I had a lot of questions, but when I left I felt I could play with these guys. It was a way for me to see I could play, and I might get a chance to play at the next level.”
He did get that chance, but Draft night in 1985 didn’t go quite like he expected.
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Porter spoke with NBA teams leading up to the draft that expressed interest in him, and his hometown Milwaukee Bucks were part of that list. The Bucks invited Porter to their Draft party, but when Milwaukee picked at No. 22 they selected Jerry Reynolds out of LSU.
Porter said he and his agent felt like his best chance to prove himself in the NBA was to get a first-round contract, ensuring he’d get three or four years to prove himself. With only two picks left in the first round and none of the teams he thought were interested in him remaining, he thought he missed his shot.
But while taking a walk outside, a security guard told him he was drafted 24th overall to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was the final pick of the first round.
He got his shot, and he got to join a team coming off a conference semifinals appearance and led by the legendary coach Dr. Jack Ramsay.
“It was an unbelievable city, an unbelievable experience,” Porter said. “Portland felt like a little bigger version of Stevens Point. The way the fans reacted, the way they did things in the community.”
He became part of that team and part of that city. He and the Blazers eventually became one of the top teams in the Western Conference, and under coach Rick Adelman the Blazers went to two NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992.
He was a two-time All-Star while playing in Portland and became a well-known point guard around the country.
“To be named an All-Star was the pinnacle at that point—to have your peers recognize what you’ve done and earn the status of being an All-Star,” Porter said. “I don’t think anyone ever forgets that, especially for me, the combination of everything you worked so hard for. You might not have people there in the gym, but you strive for that greatness…You think of all the people who helped you get there along the way: Coach Bennett, my high school coach, my brothers who beat up on me on many Saturdays, my buddies I grew up playing with. You think about all the people that helped you and had belief in you and had that type of success when you reach that moment. It was great.”
He’d eventually have another honor in Portland down the road as the Blazers retired his No. 30. That, for him, was the ultimate.
“I’ve been so blessed to have the trifecta, so to speak, I’ve had high school, college and the pros (jersey retirements),” Porter said. “At the pro level, there’s nothing like it. I’m not going to be in the Hall of Fame, so it’s the closest thing I’ll have to the Hall of Fame—to be able to be with the same group of men that put on the same jersey as me, and the fans and organization recognizing your body is something spectacular.”
Portland was where Porter made his name in the NBA, but he went on to play with the Wolves, Heat and Spurs before heading into the coaching world. In Minnesota, he was a veteran presence on a team that had just drafted Kevin Garnett, and he was part of the Timberwolves’ first two playoff appearances. He wrapped up his career with the Spurs before spending much of the past 12 years as a head coach or an assistant. He spent stints as the Phoenix and Milwaukee head coach, and he’s also coached under Adelman in Sacramento and Minnesota as well as Saunders in Detroit.
He's come a long way since those early days playing pickup ball in Milwaukee, and he's grateful for all the opportunities he's had along the way.