“Radar Contact” – River Ridge’s Grant Portera
FULL “PRESS BREAKER” PODCAST EPISODE AT BOTTOM!!
By: Keith Agran
WOODSTOCK, GA – It’s been a road filled with adversity for Grant Portera.
Team jumps, injuries, covid, non-believers, these aren’t necessarily items exclusive to the River Ridge 2022 guard, but they sure have played a huge role in the person and player he is today. Like many, June 2020 was the first chance to get back on the court two months after the emergence of Covid-19 in a significant way in the US changed all of our lives. It was the beginning of my exposure to Portera, as well as to many of his rising Georgia Legacy teammates.
“Back at that time (June 2020), I had a huge decision to make with what team I was going to choose (for AAU),” Portera said. “I didn’t know If I wanted to follow (River Ridge senior and close friend) Jared Russo to the All-Stars (where Portera had played his 9th-grade year) and play with him, so then I went to a few Legacy workouts because of my other big guy Braden Pierce (another River Ridge 2022 teammate), and I decided that was a good fit for me.”
But AAU club choices don’t come with any guarantees, and in an all-star setting like most top independent teams (which Legacy is) in the ATL-area comprise, competition is high and minutes are hard-earned. Legacy was deep with talent on the rise all over the court, and the fight was real to get on the floor with highly-thought of coach Josh Fitzwater running a college-level ship. And after a good start under Fitzwater, Portera got his first taste of the adversity to come.
“Going into the start of the season I had a lot of playing time,” he said. “And then I had a few unfortunate injuries that set me back that year along with the pandemic, which ultimately led to loss of playing time and me leaving the team.”
While many kids jumped from team to team that summer while still other organizations and players shut things down completely, Portera chose the latter, largely in part to the nagging injuries and to the still uncertain landscape as the entire country came to a slow grip on life with Covid. Once he was able to get healthier, Portera didn’t hang his head, he went to work on his strength and spent plenty of time honing his game as well.
“After leaving Legacy I spent time in the weight room to build strength, and then I have this trainer Tyler Deihl, who played at Presbyterian (and in HS at Sequoyah), I spent all the time training with him to show people why I should be looked at. I’ve always been a one-dimensional player, drives to the goal every single time and people just started taking charges on me, so I knew I had to stretch out my game and hit the jump shots.”
Playing at the next level had been an early goal for Portera, and he never lost sight of that during that tough stretch where both injuries and Covid denied him a critical summer heading into his junior high school season. River Ridge had the likes of Portera, Russo and Pierce as a solid nucleus and hopes were high for everyone around the program. Bursting with confidence despite his setbacks, Portera was thinking big for his own game, and some of the core qualities he now has in spades began to surface.
“Going into my junior year with my game I knew that my 3-point ball was better and I could help my team in that aspect of the game,” he said. “And it got to the point where I changed from someone that wants to facilitate (to) someone that wants to shoot the 3-ball now.”
The impressive confidence continued, “If I hit two or three 3-balls in a game, then they have to play me out front, (and) no one can guard me off the dribble, I don’t think there’s a person in Georgia that could.”
Portera and the Knights had a pretty good run going in the ’20-21 campaign, winning 10 of their first 15, then Jan. 12 in a 1-point loss at home to Creekview, Portera went down with an ankle fracture. More adversity.
“Fell down with (the) ankle fracture, messed up the rest of the year,” he said. “I came back in like 2 weeks, pushed it back early, playing probably 70%, but I knew that I needed to be there to help my team to go to the playoffs, I knew we had that potential.”
Clearly some momentum was lost with the Portera injury as the team went 5-7 in their last 12, before they drew a 6A playoff matchup in Round 1 with mighty Kell HS, and their spectacular All-American talent Scoot Henderson. In an epic game by all accounts, the Knights nearly took down the soon-to-be 6A finalists, dropping a squeaker 58-56.
There’s little time for pouting or even careful reflection in Georgia when it comes to sports as the calendar seemingly never ceases, the developing basketball scene in the state wastes little time transitioning from the end of the state playoffs right into AAU workouts. Portera was a man without a team, he had left Legacy under friendly circumstances, but that wasn’t the most likely option to return. His old haunts, the ATL All-Stars, were a possibility. But he needed a new “home”, a fit that was right for both his burgeoning game and for the right kind of exposure to meet his goal of playing at the next level. Options are aplenty in the ATL-market thankfully, so enter Atlanta Wolfpack, a team based out of the Roswell-area, one which had been very competitive itself in an abbreviated 2020 summer and was looking to repopulate its 17U clan.
“That was a crazy experience (looking at the Wolfpack)”, he said. “I had options everywhere to go, I was going to workouts and workouts, and then I found the Wolfpack. And I was like this is a team that’s going to open up my scoring game, because I already know that I can pass the ball, rebound, play defense. But if I can bring my scoring to 16-18 a game, then that opens up a lot of eyes.”
It was a strong summer for Portera, early on D1 school Mercer from here in Georgia expressed some early interest, and that continues. That was a nice boost for the skilled 6-3 combo guard and athlete. Getting that kind of attention, even cursory, was a sign the work he had put in and the dedication to the craft was working, something he knew incidentally at a young age was his passion after giving up a promising baseball career as a youngster to be a basketball-only junkie.
Fast forward to today, with the official start of Knights basketball practice still a little more than 6 weeks away, the work doesn’t stop, RRHS is playing Fall Ball after having a really outstanding June team experience, and the veteran team is looking sharp still.
Portera has shown if anything his dedication has not been marred by the levels of adversity he’s faced. He did after all return from another injury, a broken wrist back in March, to still have both a high-level June with the Knights and a big finish with the Wolfpack.
“I’m training with the Wolfpack, I’m training with Coach Deihl, then putting in extra hours at the gym late at night, so it’s like been pretty much 3-a-days,” he said. “I wake up, go the gym, make sure I eat right, work out, get at least 500 shots up, just repeat every day.”
There’s a lot of returning talent for the Knights, many of whom like Portera are coming off big summers that saw them add to their games and up their own recruiting profiles. A lot of these guys have been playing together since the 3rd grade, and Portera is kind of excited about what could lie ahead in ’21-22.
“The whole team, the way we mesh together, just already in the fall, this year I think is the year we might put a state championship (banner) in the gym.”
One of those would certainly help his own recruiting profile if he’s at the forefront of that championship movement, but even still he’s drawn interest from the aforementioned Mercer on the D1 level (Kennesaw St too has shown mild interest to this point), while D2’s North Georgia and Lincoln Memorial (TN) and D3 Flagler College have also been hot on his heels. But, with Portera, the confidence never stops flowing, so why not set your sights even higher. With help from Head Coach Aaron Darling, they’ve put out feelers to a couple of mid-major D1 schools that are particularly attractive personally to Portera.
“USF and FIU, I love Florida, I love the beach, I love the area, it like fits who I am as a person, if they gave me the opportunity to go and play for them, I wouldn’t turn (either) down,” he said. “That’s why I’m working so hard, I want to have the opportunity to do that.”
As for hobbies, the self-anointed “beach bum” naturally loves seafood (his family hails originally from Louisiana), give him a good crawfish boil and he’s happy. As for free time with his boys, it seems basketball is in the blood for many of them, as they can be found hitting the gym for strength training in the early am hours before school or hoisting up shots together anywhere they can find a rim.
Might as well keep playing, these years of young man’s life pass by so quickly, and this self-professed Chris Paul fan doesn’t want to let a moment of it pass without soaking up all he can.
Keith Agran has lived in Georgia since 2011 and joined OTR as a National Evaluator in 2021. He previously scouted for Prep Hoops dating back to 2019 and has both a championship-coaching background on the HS-level and daily newspaper writing experience, both from New Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BracketSage.