Two-thirds of January is gone, and this is when Ethan Porterfield was supposed to be going from taking baby steps to bigger strides in his development as a college basketball player.
The freshman is way ahead of schedule.
Porterfield, a 6-foot-8 forward for seventh-ranked IUP, has emerged as one of the top freshmen in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference for a 15-1 team.
“I wouldn’t trade him for any freshman in the country,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said Saturday night after Porterfield helped IUP rally from an early 18-point deficit en route to a blowout win over California.
Lombardi’s plan for his prize recruit from his hometown of Sharon was to bring him along slowly. With instant-impact transfer Tommy Demogontas in the lineup, there just weren’t going to be enough minutes for Porterfield among the group of forwards.
Then, the hope was that by the time February rolled around Porterfield would be ready to chip in a little more for a stretch run into the postseason.
That plan changed Nov. 23, in the fourth game of the season, when Demogerontas was driving to the baseline at the KCAC. He planted his left foot to make a slash toward the bucket, but his foot slid and stuck to the floor, and Demogerontas went down, his ACL torn, his season over.
Enter Porterfield, still slowly at first. He played about 15 minutes per game before Demogerontas went down and upped that into the 20s during a short stretch of games. Now he’s a starter playing more than 30 minutes on a regular basis.
Toss out the first four games of the season, when Porterfield was gaining his footing, and he is averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He has scored in double figures in nine of those 12 games.
“I think I’m coming along very well, a lot further than I thought I would have been,” Porterfield said. “If you’d have asked me this question at the beginning of the season, I wouldn’t be able to tell you where I’d be at, but I feel really good about how things are going.”
Against California, Porterfield scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half. He also had five rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.
“Ethan was really good down the stretch,” Lombardi said. “I kind of told him they had the quickness and spacing on us, but we had the size and had to use it. And he came up big.
“He just did a little bit of everything. As a coach, you don’t want to take him out of the game because he’s so reliable. He had one bad game all season, defensively, and that was at Shippensburg when he got into foul trouble, and maybe that had something to do with the one game we lost. We’re grateful to have him.”
IUP has reeled off six straight wins since its lone loss, and Porterfield continues to develop along with a lineup that features four players in their first season at IUP.
“He’s going to be great for us,” one of those new players, sophomore point guard Dave Morris, said after he matched his teammate with 17 points. “He’s like a sponge, too. He’s a quick learner, and I love playing with Ethan. He’s going to be real good.”
Porterfield and Morris are IUP’s two youngest and most inexperienced players. They keep each other in check.
“Me and Dave have our little talks out there,” Porterfield said. “We understand what’s going on in each other’s heads, and we make sure we know what’s going on. We’re building that chemistry up between ourselves.”
“After the game, before the game during the game,” Morris said, “I just keep telling him to keep doing what he’s doing.”