Dec 8, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Portland Pilots head coach Eric Reveno watches his team from the sidelines in the first half of the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Portland 74-46. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday night I started a twitter rant, but then thought better of it. I realized that I have this blog as a platform, and while we provide previews and analyses of games, the platform offers a great soapbox to stand on and vent my frustrations to the ten’s (this is an optimistic number) of people who stop by to read it. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, whether that be Portland’s choir, or the choir of another WCC team, but these are thoughts that need to be expressed, if not for good of the program, then at least for my own personal sanity.
After a couple of solid weeks, Portland fell back into playing down to their competition. The truth is that it is quite lonely being a Portland Pilot faithful. It’s tough to describe the feeling I get when we lose, especially in the manner we did last Saturday, and honestly I have felt it so much this season that I’m getting used to it a little, which really is sad. I try to describe my frustration to my wife but it just doesn’t resonate with her, and I go online to find fellow Pilot fans I can commiserate with, but other than the great forum at PilotNation.net there’s nothing out there.
There’s that extremely cliché definition of insanity about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Look being an avid sports fan of certain sports programs can make you feel like you’re taking crazy pills with the cycle of emotions that you feel and when the season ends, however it may end, there’s always a glimmer of hope that exists within “next year.”
Look the Portland basketball culture is pretty much non-existent. I’m one of the spoiled one who became a fan in 2006 when I enrolled at the University. Before that I had never even thought about caring about the Portland basketball program. In the time I’ve been a fan there have been some really solid years, years when it was fun to be a fan. The Pilots entered the top 25, had big upsets over Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, UCLA, and Minnesota. They had seasons when they easily handled the bottom half of the conference and were on their way to challenging Saint Mary’s as the number 2 in the conference (believe it or not the Pilots finished 1 game behind the Gaels in both 2008-2009 and 2009-2010). But then things started to go downhill and they haven’t finished in the top half of the conference since then.
In a conference rich in basketball tradition, Portland has done little to contribute. Look if the WCC were a cast of a movie, Portland would be the extra with one speaking line. They are there, in the movie, and they have a role, but really they don’t add too much. It may be harsh but it’s the truth. Portland has the fewest NCAA tournament appearances of the ten teams (2), and is the only WCC team that hasn’t won a game in the NCAA tournament. The last time they played in the NCAA tournament, Nicolas Cage won his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. Seriously Nicolas Cage wasn’t a joke yet.
Look these all provide challenges for the coaching staff. The fan base is weak. Portland’s enrollment is less than 4,000 meaning that the alumni base is tiny. The social aspects of the game aren’t there for the students. The community involvement is ok, but when was the last time Portland sold out a game in which 75% of the fans were rooting for the Pilots. What this means is that Portland needs to get creative to cultivate an environment that is passionate about Pilot Basketball. Essentially Portland needs to be better.
Jan 29, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Portland Pilots guard Jason Todd (10) goes up for a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Gary Bell, Jr. (5) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Todd is one of the nice young pieces the Pilots have. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
From a recruiting perspective regionally Portland is going head to head against Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, and Oregon State, not to mention other smaller D-I schools such as Portland State, Seattle, Eastern Washington. Look the Pilots aren’t going to put together a top-25 talent level recruiting class unless something comes way out of left-field. It was even somewhat surprising last year when two separate top 100 recruits listed Portland in their final schools (Kendall Small eventually chose Oregon and Drew Eubanks went to Oregon State). What Coach Reveno and his staff have succeeded at however, is bringing in high character guys, which is much appreciated, but when those student-athletes don’t produce wins it can be difficult to maintain hope. What that means is that the Portland needs to identify recruits early in the process. They need to be better at seeing upside than other schools. They also need be better at developing that talent and getting the most out of their recruits. They need to be better prepared for every single opponent. They don’t have the luxury to rely on talent alone to win games. They need to do a better job of finishing games, playing an entire 40 minutes.
Look building a program is difficult. And building it from scratch at a school like Portland without the same resources as other schools, it’s even more of a challenge. But I think it’s doable. We have some nice pieces on this roster. There have been steps that have been made over the past 10 years but for every few steps forward, we take a few back. Being the optimist that I am I think that we can do it, I’m just unsure when the glory years are going to come.