Saint Peter’s head coach John Dunne never watched Antwon Portley play until he reached campus, but it did not take long to convince him that the freshman would have an impact.
Portley scored 21 points to help lead Lancaster High School to a 5A State championship in Texas, yet he was still available during the spring period.
“I had just seen him on film,” Dunne said. “In pressure situations he was performing, hitting big shots and playing with a toughness, so it wasn’t hard to fall in love with his game.”
Assistant coach Matt Henry ran point on recruiting the 6’4” guard who had already been exposed to the college experience. His father, Anthony, coached women’s basketball from NAIA all the way to Division I. He helped the Hampton University Lady Pirates clinch their first conference championship in a two year stint as an assistant. His experience extends over two decades in college basketball, which helped his son navigate the process of picking where he wanted to go.
“I think they were more genuine and more honest about the stuff they were saying,” Portley said. “A lot of other schools were probably kind of extending the truth a little bit. I think they, Saint Peter’s, told me straight up and I knew what to expect when I got here.”
Portley’s father left the college industry to coach him on the AAU circuit when he reached high school, which helped the guard get exposed to what it would be like in college as well as the recruiting industry.
“I’ve seen him when he was in college recruiting people and I see what it’s like,” Portley said. “I know it’s easier to tell when somebody’s being honest with you or somebody’s not. I really feel Saint Peter’s was being honest with me.”
The freshman attributes his father’s ability to work on his shooting form, which he has put on display leading the Peacocks in three-pointers made (37) and is tied with junior Trevis Wyche for the team-high in free throw percentage (77.2%).
“All his teams were able to shoot, so even when I was a kid, he tried to teach me how to shoot early,” Portley said.
The freshman guard has shot early and often for the Peacocks, scoring a career-high 30 points in his collegiate debut against Brown. He is only one of three players who have scored 30 in their Peacock debut; the others were Marvin Dominique (31 pts) and Keydren Clark (35 pts). Dunne knew he had a possibly great player through the preseason, but did not expect Portley to join such exclusive company in his first game.
“There was a time when Trevis Wyche actually sat out two practices, about two weeks into the season back in October, and Antwon had the ball in his hands for two practices in the open court and was making some really special plays,” Dunne said. “I think it was then that we realized, we know he’s a freshman, we know he needs to get stronger and we know there’s going to be some inconsistency, but at the same time we knew you can see what kind of player that he was going to be able to become. He certainly has had his moments up to this point.”
Portley ranks second amongst freshmen in the MAAC, second to Marist’s Brian Parker, in scoring with 15.3 ppg. He came to the Peacocks as a scorer, but has learned to become a natural facilitator within the offense.
“It kind of came natural in the game just learning and just playing, but a lot of it is just having confidence,” Portley said. “I’m having confidence in myself, but I know guys on the team have confidence in me and I know most out of all I know the coaching staff has confidence in me being able to try and make the right decision. I have to be smart about it.”
Dunne knows that one of their goals will be to add more muscle to his 165 pound frame after his first season, but so far Saint Peter’s has benefitted from as Dunne said “very high IQ” for the game.
“You just ultimately never truly know until the games start just how much of an impact somebody can make, but we knew he was going to have somewhat of an impact,” Dunne said. “We were going to need him to have an impact to have a chance to win games in our league, so he’s been thrown right in to the fire, but he’s just got a poise about him.”
“He’s still learning and obviously his best days are ahead of him, but certainly we’re pretty confident that he can score the ball for us in pressure situations.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.