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Porter Has Gotten Hot on Offense at Right Time for Mater Dei

March 17, 2001|BEN BOLCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mater Dei is playing for a state title tonight in part because its defensive specialist has turned into a scoring machine.

Guard Ricky Porter, who worked his way into the starting lineup through his ability to stop others, has become almost unstoppable on the offensive end, where he is suddenly as integral to the Monarchs' success as their marquee players, Cedric Bozeman and Jamal Sampson.

Consider last Saturday's Southern California Regional final.

Mater Dei led Fresno Clovis West, 53-52, entering the fourth quarter of a game that looked like it might come down to the final shot.

Porter made sure it didn't. He opened the quarter with back-to-back layups and scored 16 of his 20 points in the final eight minutes as the Monarchs pulled away for an 80-62 victory.

The 6-foot-3 senior also came up big with nine of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter of Mater Dei's semifinal win over Upland.

"His last two games? We're not in them without him," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "He has stepped forward so much these last two games that he's made a huge difference. He's very underrated."

Porter will get one more chance to impress at 8 tonight at Arco Arena in Sacramento when the Monarchs (32-2) play Modesto Christian (34-3) for the Division I state championship.

Porter's recent offensive bursts have increased his season scoring average to 12.3 points per game. He is shooting 57.4% from the field, second on the team behind Sampson, who has dunked his way to a 72.3% shooting clip.

Major colleges have only recently begun to show interest in Porter, who until now was outshined by the UCLA-bound Bozeman and California-bound Sampson.

"My confidence has grown a lot," Porter said. "I know what I can do now. I know I can play 'D,' and when they need me to score, I can."

Said Sampson: "The team has as much confidence to go to him at the end of the game as it does to go to me or Ced. He can score just as well as we can."

There was a time not so long ago when Porter emphasized another aspect of his game. Heading into his sophomore season, he was told by then-assistant coach Dave Taylor that the only way he was going to get playing time was by becoming a great defensive player.

So Porter hit the weight room to strengthen his body. His father, Richard, a former Cal State Fullerton player, pushed him to play harder. In practice, Porter guarded the Monarchs' best guards, Bozeman and Steve Scoggin, even though it often meant being embarrassed.

"When I first started trying to guard them," Porter said, "they would do me pretty good, they would score on me a lot. But as I would gradually get better, I would be able to stop them a few times. I think that's what helped me."

The hard work quickly paid off when Porter found himself inserted into the lineup to defend the opponent's best guard. He wasn't a starter, but he kept getting into games when his teammates' defense lagged or someone got hurt.

As a junior, Porter moved into the starting lineup on a part-time basis. This season, he's started every game.

Porter has spent much of this season honing his shooting stroke, sticking around after practice each day to fire off about 500 shots, leaving only when the volleyball team kicked him out of the gym. Perhaps that's why his teammates kept passing him the ball earlier this season in a game against Louisville (Ky.) Ballard.

With Sampson unable to play because of a foot injury, and Bozeman struggling to find his touch, Porter became the go-to guy, racking up a career-high 28 points in the Monarchs' narrow loss. "It's a highlight that they kept going to me and had confidence I could score and help them win," Porter said.

Another highlight came against Upland, when Porter kept getting the ball down the stretch even with Sampson back in the lineup.

Sampson said that was an indication of how far Porter has progressed. "He has the confidence in his game right now to take that shot in the fourth quarter," Sampson said, "whereas last year he probably would have passed to Ced."

Porter is hoping for an opportunity to play in the Pacific 10. He said Washington has shown interest, as have Long Beach State, Liberty and UC Riverside.

"If Washington would like to have me," he said, "I'd be there."

But Porter has one more high school game to focus on first.

And from all indications, Modesto Christian will focus a lot of attention on him--unlike other teams Mater Dei has recently faced.

"He really impresses me," said Crusader Coach Gary Porter, who saw the Monarch guard play a few times in December during the Las Vegas Holiday Prep Classic. "He's just a good player. He's kind of overshadowed by Bozeman and Sampson, but I think he might be the one who scares me most."

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