Tuesday, January 19, 1999

JC transfer leads unbeaten Auburn against UK

The Associated Press

        AUBURN, Ala. — At the start of the season, few knew who Chris Porter was — even some of the sports information people at Auburn inadvertently called him “Porter Smith” following the team's first exhibition game.

        But his name recognition is changing dramatically. He's one of the top newcomers in the country and might be the best player in the Southeastern Conference.

        On Wednesday, Porter will try to help No. 6 Auburn (17-0, 5-0) break a 12-game losing streak to No. 7 Kentucky (15-4, 4-1) — only the third matchup in the Tigers' 90-year history between two Top 10 teams.

        “I didn't expect this game to be that big of a deal when I first got here,” Porter said. “But all SEC games are big and this is just another one of them.”

        All Auburn games are big this year, largely because of Porter. A flashy, exciting transfer from Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, Porter quickly went to work waking up the long-slumbering program.

        It didn't take long. From day one when he took the court with his 1970s-style afro hairstyle, the fans have loved him. He wowed them with his thundering dunks, spectacular leaping ability and quickness.

        And before he could get his hair trimmed, as he did, the word on Porter was out.

        Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson called the 6-foot-7 forward “a definite first-rounder” after Porter scored 20 against the Razorbacks. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith called Porter “one of the best players in the country, not just this league.”

        Porter currently leads Auburn with 16.8 points and 8.7 rebounds a game and his 37 steals and 3.9 offensive rebounding average rank second in the SEC. He's a dominant inside force at both ends of the court and thrives when the game is on the line.

        After going scoreless in the first half against Florida last Saturday, he scored 15 second half points to break open a close game and move the Tigers to 5-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1964.

        “I love the game so I go out and give it my all,” Porter said. “That's all I can do.”

        He's gained an awful lot of attention doing so, something that's completely new to him. Although he hams it up on the court and with the fans, he's reserved with the media and hesitant to put too much of the focus on himself.

        “I'm just a team player, there's 13 of us,” he said. “I'm just a regular kid, like anybody else, trying to get an education. I didn't come here for recognition, I came here to play basketball.”

        Part of his reluctance to be the star is because he's never been one before. Only Auburn recruited him out of Abbeville (Ala.) High School, where he was the MVP of the Class 4A state championship game. He failed to qualify academically and went to Chipola, where he played for former Auburn assistant Carl Nash.

        And even though he was a junior college All-American, averaging 24.8 points and 11.8 rebounds last year, Auburn was the only school interested.

        “People not knowing who I was made me the stronger and better person that I am now and a better player,” Porter said. “That's why I'm finally here at Auburn, doing what I've always dreamed of doing.”


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