BOGACZYK: Finally, Porter Brings Plenty to Herd Hoops
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 10, 2015
Dec. 10, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Taylor Porter's long trip "home" certainly wasn't as straight-line as the route she often drives to the basket for Marshall these days.
The sophomore transfer didn't arrive with the Herd until after moving from Murray State and sitting out last season. That's not so unusual. But that came after she crossed the confluence of the Levisa and Tug forks from her Fort Gay, W.Va., home to stardom in Kentucky high school hoops at Lawrence County.
There's more, and it makes the 5-foot-8 Porter a real rarity in these days of major college hoops - men or women.
She never played AAU basketball.
"I started to play in my eighth grade year and the first game they had was in Texas," Porter recounted of her brief fling with the Huntington-based West Virginia Thunder. "And my dad didn't want to fly. He was totally against flying, said we're not going to go travel all these places.
"He and my mom had to work and they weren't going to send me off to all these places by myself, so I didn't play. I went to little camps here and there in summers, but that's it."
Stewart and Katrina Porter's daughter could have then been an older program-mate of current Herd freshmen Shayna Gore, Hope Lester, Logan Fraley and Maddie Morris, the in-state and Tri-State rookies on what is now a 6-0 Herd team. It didn't happen. But Porter's game isn't any poorer for it.
"Taylor adds to a level of toughness on our team that we have lacked since we have been here," Marshall fourth-year coach Matt Daniel said. "The pride that she has wearing the jersey to represent this university and her family is unparalleled.
"And her personality is something I look forward to in practice every day."
When Daniel was hired at Marshall in May 2012, bringing in his so-called "Herd home of Higher Hoops," Porter already was well on her way to success at Lawrence County. She said she wanted to be recruited by the Herd, but with a new coaching staff at Marshall, her only Division I offer was Murray State.
She took it and signed in November 2012 - the first girls' basketball player from LCHS to sign a major college grant-in-aid -- just prior to her senior season.
"My high school coach (Roger Harless) had actually made a call here," Porter said. "And I guess the staff was coming in and out and I felt like they weren't that interested -- they didn't want me, not that they didn't know who I was.
"The new staff didn't; they were new here, but it made me feel like they didn't want me. So, I kind of played with a chip on my shoulder all of my freshman year at Murray State because there's a college 45 minutes away from me that didn't want me."
At Murray in 2013-14, Porter started 17 of 28 games and averaged 10.9 points and 26.7 minutes per game. Primarily a wing shooter for the Racers, her three-point field goal percentage was .380 ... and she made the Ohio Valley Conference All-Newcomers Team.
She was about to be a newcomer again.
"I wanted to be here," said Porter, who is averaging 9.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 27.3 minutes per game in six starts with a Herd team off to the program's best start since 1971-72. "I finally found out they were interested when I decided to leave Murray. When I finally decided to leave, I wanted to be home, and my high school coach called down here and it was like, `Yeah, yeah, we're interested, bring her in. tell her we want her."
The dark-haired Porter had a more personal reason for wanting to play close to home, too.
"My grandfather, Earl Nelson, found out he had terminal cancer of my freshman year in college," Porter said. "That kind of took a toll on me and he only got to come to one game, (at Eastern Kentucky), and then he passed away in June (2014). That's what really pushed me to come back home to play."
As a Lawrence County senior, she was an All-State pick on multiple teams in the Bluegrass State, averaging 25.4 points - tied for third in Kentucky - and 5.7 rebounds. Murray signed her after a junior season in which Porter averaged 20.5 points.
Asked about crossing a state border for high school, Porter said "her parents thought ahead" when she made the transition in middle school. "It helped me academically and athletically, too," said the MU biology major on a pre-veterinary track.
Porter brings a high basketball IQ to the floor, and she's among nine new faces on Daniel's roster this season, and she said the melding of talent hasn't always been easy, but it helps that so many of them are learning to play together at the same time.
"Some people don't really understand that, but everybody settles in together in the same way," Porter said. "(Seniors) Leah (Scott) and `ReRe' (senior point guard Norrisha Victrum) start and have played forever but coming in, settling down within the group - (junior) Kiana (Evans) didn't start last year; I didn't play last year; Talequia (Hamilton) didn't play last year (as a transfer). It's getting everybody on the same page.
"I guess you'd say I'm a combo guard. I didn't really see myself as a combo guard until I got here, actually ... I was basically just a shooter at Murray. I didn't drive to the basket unless it was a layup. I played some one (point guard), but here I can bring the ball up the floor, too."
The 5-8 Porter is aided defensively because she has a 5-11 wingspan, and those long arms and ball-handling ability help Porter when she is trying to head to the hoop in transition, too. She has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio (17 and 8) to go with nine steals.
"Probably my defense is the most improved part of my game since I got here, because I really didn't like to play defense," Porter said, smiling. "But Coach Daniel is all about defense. I've been working a lot on finishing at the rim and that's improved a lot this year. I'm really not used to driving to the basket."
But it was after she enrolled at Marshall a summer ago, then came the hardest part.
"Well, I expected sitting out to be tough, but I didn't expect it to be as tough as it was," Porter said of the NCAA-mandated transfer year. "I think the worst part was on game days, with (assistant) Coach (Tony) Kemper, when I had to work out. I lifted, I practiced and I got better as an individual, but it was tough to watch my team play without me.
"On game days, I always had to lift before shoot-around, so if shoot-around was at 8 (a.m.), I had to lift before then, then come to shoot-around and play on the opposing (scout) team, then work out individually with Tony afterward.
"Probably the hardest part was knowing I couldn't be out there, and it wasn't that I wasn't good enough - I just couldn't get out there. I was good enough. That was hard. Coming from the OVC (All-Newcomer honor), that helped with my confidence.
"There were a lot of good players here last year and there are a lot of good players here this year, but I feel like I have a lot of talent and I fit in."