Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in documentary film.
Portis learned from Cal loss
Freshman used poor performance as motivation
Arkansas forward Bobby Portis pulls in a rebound in front of an Ole Miss defender during a game Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Instead of soaking up the sun, Bobby Portis soaked up knowledge during his break time in Maui last November.
The freshman had just been beaten up by California's big men in an 85-77 loss - his first as a player with the Razorbacks. Portis finished the loss with only 5 points and 1 rebound as Arkansas was out-rebounded by 16.
He texted coach Mike Anderson from the shores of the Pacific and asked to talk.
“After the game, I was kind of down on myself,” Portis said. “I was on the beach, just sitting by myself, and I called Coach."
"He was eager to find out what he could do better," Anderson recalled. "How could he be more effective for our basketball team? He's gotten better and is like a sponge. He takes the criticism as well as the coaching. That's the good part about Portis is he wants to be a student of the game."
Portis responded with 12 points and 7 rebounds the next day in a win over Minnesota, and 18 points and 7 rebounds in the last game of the trip against Gonzaga. He has been a consistent force since, averaging 12.3 points and setting a school record for freshmen with 220 rebounds. He was named to the all-SEC second team.
Portis said multiple times throughout the season the Cal loss motivated him to be better. He'll get a chance at redemption Monday when the Hogs play the Golden Bears on this side of the Pacific in the second round of the NIT.
"He's gotten better but so has our whole basketball team," Anderson said. "When you talk about those guys beating us on the boards, it was our whole team. That has to be the focal point for our guys. The emphasis has to be rebounding the basketball.
"Our guys are a little bit more seasoned. We're a little more experienced. You take that (Cal) game and build on it throughout the nonconference schedule and then you go through the SEC. Bobby has been against (LSU's Johnny) O'Bryant and the kids from Kentucky, so he's been against the best players in the league."