Big man Bobby Portis is new school. He shoots threes, leads fast breaks and has a shoe collection as diverse as his game. Off the court, he rocks the same nerd-chic glasses and bow tie swag Kevin Durant has helped popularize in the NBA.
But when Portis takes his game to Fayetteville next season, it’s the promise of returning Arkansas to old school glory that most excites Hogs fans. Portis, after all, is the state’s best big man since his former coach Corliss Williamson. He’s already followed Williamson’s lead by leading the Arkansas Wings to an AAU national championship. The 6-10 senior center may also be the most dominant player from Little Rock Hall High since Sidney Moncrief, another Razorback All-American.
Portis, we find out, fully embraces the legacy of all his schools – past, present and future:
Q: Let’s get this out of the way first. You’ve been known to wear some crazy, neon-colored shoes on the court. How many do you have and why do you wear them?
A: I have Nike shoes in the neon pink, orange, blue, red and green.
It’s just a different style. I like to wear different types of colored shoes, you know. It’s nothing serious. My mom sees the shoes, so she buys them.
Q: Who is most responsible for helping you develop as a post player?
A: When I was little, it was Corliss Williamson. He taught me a lot. But then he moved on to coach UCA and couldn’t coach us [in AAU] anymore. Then I started working out with Marcus McCarroll. He’s in athletic trainer here in Little Rock, and he’s also a part of the Wings. He really helped improve my post game.
Q: Why did you choose to sign with the Razorbacks? A lot of young players nowadays grow up with teams like Kentucky and Florida as the SEC powerhouse programs, and they want to be a part of that. But you decided to stay home.
A: Growing up, my mom and family always talked about the Razorbacks. That’s all I ever really heard. When I played the Xbox, I would always choose the Razorbacks. When I played with Corliss Williamson, I would go to his house and see all the Razorback gear he had and stuff like that.
Q: What did Corliss show you?
A: His national championship ring, and he would tell me how back in the day how much fun he had and about all the fan support he got.
Q: As a sophomore you were fairly anonymous in national recruiting circles. But since then you’ve emerged to become ranked as ESPN’s 11th-best senior in the nation. What changed?
A: My 10th grade year I started the first 12 or 15 games and then after that I didn’t play that much. Sitting on the bench, I kind of changed my whole attitude toward basketball. I had to think to myself: “Well, what was I doing wrong to not play anymore?” And then when we went to the state championship game my 10th grade we won, but I only played like two minutes and that kind of hurt me, so I wanted to get back in the gym and work hard so I can be one of the top players.
Q: What happened next?
A: After the championship game, the next day, we had a tryout for the Wings. I made the team and after that I started working out more with coach Marcus, and we started skill development and conditioning. I was hungrier … I’m actually hungrier now than I was then because now I’m one of the top prospects. You can’t just rest. You have to keep working harder and harder because people out there are trying to work harder than you.
Q: Hall’s coach Jon Coleman sometimes puts you at the top of his 1-3-1 zone defense. It’s pretty amazing to see someone your size out on the perimeter like that. You comfortable out there?
A: Yes sir, because at the top of the 1-3-1 he needs someone big to cause havoc. I just had to step up and buy into it because I’m the biggest person on the team and I can just cause turnovers and stuff like that …. When people normally see a tall person they think they’re slow. So on the court when they see me out there, they’re probably laughing because they don’t think I can slide my feet, so then I have to surprise him and try to get a steal.
Q: What else do you feel like you do really well?
A: I think my best attribute is making my teammates better. It comes from confidence in myself and confidence my teammates. Because if I trust them, then they’ll trust me. If I play hard, then they’ll play hard. If they see me going to work out, then they’ll work out. And they will be better, then the team will be better overall.
Q: A few weeks ago, Hall lost 59-53 to Memphis’ White Station. I know Hall’s Tyler Scaife, one of the best female prep players in the nation, holds her own practicing with the boys team. How do you think she would have done against White Station’s guards?
A: Personally, I think if we had had Tyler we would’ve won… she has nice handles, nice overall ball control, she’s just really good.
Q: In that game you guarded Baylor commit LeRon Black. What do you think of his game?
A: I think he plays very hard hard. I think he runs the floor. It wasn’t his best game, but he’s a very good player. He crashes the offense of boards like crazy; you can’t box him out.
Q: What college or NBA player do you most want to model your game after?
A: I don’t model my game after anyone, but I like LeBron James. He’s an all-around basketball player. He does it all on the court. Among post players, Kevin Garnett.
Q: LeBron James played wide receiver through his junior year of high school. Did you ever think about playing football for Hall?
A: Actually in middle school, I played tight end and wide receiver. But once I got to high school my mom said I got too tall to play football, so I can’t play anymore. [ed. Bobby’s mother, apparently, did not know about Willie Cauley-Stein]
Through this season’s first 10 games, Portis averaged 18.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.9 bpg and 1.2 spg while leading Hall to a 7-3 start. More detailed stats are available here.