Antwon Portley made huge impact in high school, and will have an immediate opportunity to repeat that at Saint Peter's this season. (Photo courtesy of the Dallas Morning News)
When you see Antwon Portley, the way he carries himself on the court stands out almost instantly. Although a 165-pound freshman guard who could easily be mistaken for a manager or staff member, his swagger immediately reminds you that he is already developing into a leader on a team that has high hopes for one of its new faces.
When you speak with him, another characteristic is quick to reveal itself as a trait that separates him from some of his other rookie brethren across the nation. A soft-spoken, articulate young charge, Portley is mature well beyond his years, something Saint Peter's will gladly welcome in a backcourt that is significantly younger despite returning experienced incumbents in Trevis Wyche and Chazz Patterson.
So, how was it that such a player flew so far under the radar, especially when leading his high school team to a 34-win season and a district championship?
"I didn't hear about Saint Peter's until almost the end of my senior year," Portley admitted. "When I came down for my visit, I really had a great bond with the coaching staff and I fit in good with the team, and I said 'this is somewhere I'd like to be.'"
The mutual interest has contributed to a budding marriage through the summer workout process and first several practices for the Peacocks, who will count on Portley to help fill the void at the shooting guard spot, a vacancy created by the graduation of all-conference talent Desi Washington.
"He's a coach's son, a 5A state champion," head coach John Dunne said of Portley. "He knows what it takes to win. His IQ level is very, very good, and I would put him as an upperclassman junior type of IQ 17 practices in. His skill level is also pretty good, he's shooting about 45-46 percent in practice right now, he's a willing passer and unselfish player, and with strength gain, he's going to be a really, really good player in our league for a few years."
A native of Lancaster, Texas, located just outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, Portley thinks just as big as the state from which he hails. While the prospect of playing at the highest level is enough to sway a lot of freshmen to their new homes, it was more than basketball that lured this newcomer to Jersey City.
"Not only basketball," Portley candidly discussed among the factors that were influential in his signing with Saint Peter's, "but the campus (and) the academics. The culture's very diverse, and I actually met a couple of teachers, and I really thought they would have more interest in their students than most colleges do."
"We knew the more film we were watching on him, we couldn't understand why his recruiting wasn't more involved," said Dunne. "We recruited him as a two guard to start and we were talking to him about coming in, being a scorer, being a shooter. He shot such a high percentage in high school and watching the state championship game, the point guard had gotten hurt and he played a lot of point in that game, and we said 'Hey, man, we also need to bring in some ball handling,' so we actually feel like we killed two birds with one stone."
Portley will play both on and off the ball this season, according to Dunne, and after averaging 16 points per game as a senior in high school, the Texan tackles his next endeavor with the potential to land on the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's All-Rookie team even if he only replicates half of that number.
"I feel like I can help this team in different kinds of ways," he said."Offensively and defensively, (I'm) just bringing energy, just becoming more of a vocal leader. I'm a hard-nosed guard who's going to do whatever it takes to win."