FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Bobby Portis looked every bit as comfortable in the Bud Walton Arena media room as he ever did on the basketball court, breaking out into song, laughing and smiling all the way to the NBA.
Flanked by Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and surrounded by teammates, the reigning Southeastern Conference Player of the Year had reason to relax Tuesday afternoon after announcing his decision to declare for the NBA earlier in the day.
“It’s a more sweet than bitter day,” Anderson said. “Why? Because this kid, he’s part of my family.”
After agonizing for weeks about the decision, Portis made up his mind to leave the Razorbacks after his breakout sophomore season.
He did so as a projected first-round pick in the NBA, with the hope his emergence as one of the country’s top big men is enough to propel him into the lottery.
Most importantly, it was a decision made on his own, though he also sought the advice of his mother, Tina Edwards, and childhood mentor and former Arkansas great Corliss Williamson.
And while the decision was eventually made for purely basketball reasons, the soft-spoken Portis had talked repeatedly in the past about the impact his hard-working mother had on his life.
He mentioned her again Tuesday, along with her 2 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift delivering bread in Little Rock to provide for Portis’ three younger brothers.
“That’s an 11-hour shift for any person; that’s a tough burden on anyone,” Portis said. “I just want to take that next step, not just for her, but for myself. I’m not doing this for my mom or anything. I’m doing this for Bobby Portis, just because I feel like I’m ready to take that next step.”
Portis was the key cog in Arkansas’ rebirth under Anderson the last two years, including the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008.
The 6-foot-11 sophomore averaged 17.5 points and 8.9 rebounds this season, leading Arkansas (27-9) to its most wins since the program reached the second of back-to-back national championship game appearances in 1995. The prep All-American had averaged 12.3 points as a freshman, struggling at times to adapt to the rugged interior pay of the SEC.
Portis shot 53.6 percent from the field in his second season, becoming the focal point of an Arkansas team that finished second in the SEC behind Kentucky.
“I believe I showed kids that you don’t have to go to Kentucky or Florida just to try and live your dreams,” Portis said. “Coach Anderson and his staff gets it done here.”
Anderson’s admiration for Portis was clear Tuesday. One of the first players the coach recruited after being hired away from Missouri four years ago, Portis committed to the Razorbacks and Anderson early on, never wavering in his desire to follow in the footsteps of Williamson.
Portis told The Associated Press last month that he wanted to be “the greatest Razorback of all-time” when his career at Arkansas was finished. He didn’t quite reach the level of Williamson, who led the school to the 1994 national championship, or others such as Sidney Moncrief and Todd Day. But Portis did endear himself to Arkansas fans with his humble approach, work ethic and quick smile.
And Anderson left little doubt about his thoughts on Portis’ impact on a school desperate to once again establish itself as one of the premier college basketball programs in the country.
“He has done some great things here for us at the university, took us some places we haven’t been in a while,” Anderson said. “But I think he has just started something that is going to continue to take place.”
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