Exceeding expectations: Dominique Porter leads Scott County Central boys basketball team back to final four
Thursday, March 15, 2012
It wasn't long after the Scott County Central Braves won their third consecutive state title a year ago that Dominique Porter changed his focus to winning a fourth consecutive championship during his senior season.
And when Porter starts focusing on something, he's not likely to stop until he's finished his work.
"We were really waiting on this year," Porter said after his team's practice Monday. "That was last year's seniors. I was just helping them get to state. Right after we had won, I know my mind frame switched over that I'm going to have to try to get my team up there like the seniors did with us."
He's not exaggerating. Less than half an hour after the Braves had state championship medals placed around their necks last March, Porter emerged from the locker room calm and relaxed while many of his senior teammates shed tears because the season was over.
"My time ain't over yet," he said then. "I've got to try to get us up here next year."
He also said that those senior teammates doubted that he could make that happen.
"To be honest with you, they ain't got faith in us," Porter said. "We're just going to have to prove everybody wrong and come up here and try to win another state championship."
And so they did. The Braves will play Glasgow in a Class 1 state semifinal at noon today at the Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.
There was plenty of reason to wonder if a team that lost nine seniors and four starters, including one named Otto Porter who now plays for Georgetown, would be able to make a fifth consecutive trip to the final four.
While senior teammate LeMarcus Steward received playing time a year ago, Dominique Porter was the only starter to return to SCC this season.
He knew it would be his turn to lead the Braves this season after watching his cousins Bobby Hatchett and Otto Porter lead during their senior seasons the last two years.
"He had the mindset this year to come in here and show these younger guys how to take over and do those things," SCC coach Kenyon Wright said. "I thought he come in with that mindset this year of doing that.
"It took him a little bit to get himself acclimated to it, but by the time the season come around, he was pretty close to where he wanted to be when it come to stepping up in games and taking over that role of, 'Hey look, whenever the going gets tough, I've got to go get a rebound or go get a steal or two points.' That's something that, for our team this year, has been big."
It was a role he patiently had been waiting to play.
"I wanted this," Dominique said when asked about being the team's focal point. "Coming in, people were doubting us, telling us we weren't going to come back this year. In my mind, I wanted this more than anything in the world.
Just to come back up here and prove everybody wrong that we still can do this even though we don't have my cousin Otto or the people we had last year. If you put your mind to it, you can do anything that you want."
There is no obvious anger or attitude in his voice when he talks about those who doubted the team, though he brings up the topic often without being prompted. There are no gloating I-told-you-so statements, either -- at least not outwardly.
"It's a bunch of mixed emotions," Dominique said. "It angered us, it put us down, it made us depressed. We just turned all those emotions into work. We ran, ran our butts off, practiced our shots and then we had the mind frame that we were going to prove everybody wrong. I think that helps out a lot whenever you're trying to go back to state."
Dominique is used to playing with family at the final four, but this is the first year his brother Jaylen, a junior, has been part of the team.
"Being able to play with my little brother, that's something special because who knows if my brother will even have another chance to go up there," Dominique said. "I'm just trying to open up doors for my little brother. Playing with him, that's something every older brother strives for is to get to play with their little brother."
Although they're separated by just a year in age, Dominique and Jaylen have very different personalities.
"You would think they would like to hang out being as close as they are, but they pretty much got opposite roles, so they pretty well do their different things," said their father, Jerry Porter, who played on four state championship teams at SCC.
Jaylen is more laid back, while Dominique is more serious.
"Dominique is pretty much focused, but he's got to be because I've instilled it in him," Jerry said. "I've put it in him that every game counts. You've got to give it your all every time. He pretty much gets it. Sometimes he gets over-focused."
To hear them tell it, the brothers fight nonstop. Dominique even pointed to a small mark on his nose, which he called a scar, and said it was the result of a fight a couple days earlier.
Both were asked what had started the disagreement, but after a couple minutes of laughter and thought, neither could remember.
Dominique said that he'll sometimes go a whole day without talking to his brother. The last time that happened was after they both went for a rebound in practice.
"I think because I punched him in the mouth or elbowed him or something, he didn't want to speak to me," Jaylen said. "It's on the court, off the court. It's just brotherly love."
This is the point in the story where Dominique interrupted his brother's story to say, "I hate you," with a big smile on his face before walking away.
"The fighting's part of it," Jaylen said without responding to Dominique.
"Them being brothers, they're going to fight," Jerry said. "They're going to have their moments, but most of the time if they're playing one-on-one or something or one is fouling harder than the other one or one is getting over on the other one then it ends up in, not no fist fight, but they'll argue all day long about who's better and all that. It's good to see it because they kind of boost each other's egos or whatever. It kind of gets them motivated to play hard all the time."
Jaylen said he feels pressure from Dominique to play well.
"He's so serious," Jaylen said. "He wants to win. He loves to win, and if you can't do that for him, he has the biggest attitude toward you.
"If you don't get a loose ball, he's all in your face. You better get the next one or he's coming for you."
In this case, it doesn't matter if he's your big brother or not.
"He'll give it to you equally," Jaylen said. "He don't care who you are."
As far as Dominique is concerned, that's his job. He said he's "more of a captain" this season than in past years.
"I'm just trying to help everybody get wherever they need to go," Dominique said. "I'm just the leader. I'm going to show everybody what they need to do and how to do it."
He has averaged a team-high 23.8 points and 7.0 rebounds this season.
"I think this is by far my best year," he said. "I'm proud of how I've played this year. It's been a few games that I've kind of questioned myself, but as far as the whole overview -- I mean, it's not over yet -- I'm happy with the way I've played."
He'll be listed at the final four as a 5-foot-11 guard, but that's not a position he's played much this season. He's spent much of the year playing in the paint, where he's more than comfortable.
"I kind of feel like I was playing more of what Otto was playing whenever he was here," Dominique said. "I played post more than I did outside."
He spent most of his state championship sophomore season playing inside.
"I played him in that forward spot a little bit just because he rebounded so well, and we needed somebody in there besides [Otto] to rebound," Wright said. "He went in there, stepped in there and done some rebounding. He just worked hard. He really wanted it and wanted the opportunity to do that. I give him that opportunity and he kind of flourished in there."
While he played more guard during his junior season, he still made regular contributions scoring and rebounding in the post.
"He's definitely got a nose for the ball, and he just goes out there and is relentless," Wright said. "He's just relentless when it comes down to it. When he wants to go get a ball, he can go get it. When he wants to go get it, even with his size and athletic ability, he can go get it. When he does that, we can be a pretty good basketball team. That right there really helps us out. If he doesn't do that, we're not going to be very good."
Dominique scored 18 points during last season's state championship game after averaging 11 a game during the regular season. He needed to make outside jumpers thanks to Dadeville's game plan that day, and he did.
"Before we went to state, I was struggling with my shot," Dominique said. "The thing I remember is coach told me just keep practicing. My dad told me the same thing -- just keep practicing your shot and your shot will fall down. That championship game I was just shooting and shooting and luckily it fell. Practice does pay off."
This season's road to Columbia has had quite a few more rough spots for the Braves, who dominated most of their opponents over the last three seasons. SCC enters the final four with a 20-10 record.
"It's been hard, but I didn't come in here expecting that we were going to win every game," Dominique said. "Sometimes losing is a good thing. Falling down on your face -- it just show you what things that you need to work on and what you need to do later on.
"Losing, it was a bad thing on our part, but I think it prepared us well to get to state and where we are now. We played a lot of good teams, so these teams that we're playing now, we've had already played better teams than we played coming up in districts. That helped us out a lot."
It took the SCC players, many of whom hadn't played together regularly before and many of whom never had played on the varsity level, time to establish their roles.
"That's very important," Dominique said. "This year was kind of different because the past years we had almost identical teams.
"I remember in the summer when we first started playing, we weren't together because everybody didn't know what everybody could do. Everybody just kind of gently went to each other's roles."
It was a process that extended well into the season.
"I think that coming down whenever the district tournament started that they looked at it as, 'Look, no matter what's happened, no matter what our record is, no matter what I've done or what this guy's done, we need to go out here and do it together and see what we can accomplish,'" Wright said. "I think they've took that mindset and took that idea and used it starting at the district tournament and kept it going so far."
The Braves have won their four playoff games by an average of almost 24 points, but Dominique's focus now is on winning a 16th state title for SCC.
"My mindset is our work's not done yet," Dominique said. "Our work's not even close to being done. We've still got two more games to go. Until that buzzer at the end of the state championship game goes to zero, our work's not done yet. Not even close."