In his 17-year NBA career, former Blazers guard Terry Porter earned a reputation as a smart, hard-nosed player who outworked more-talented opponents. For hoops fans, Porter's hiring in April as the head coach of the University of Portland men's basketball team was great news.

Porter served as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns after his playing days. Phoenix fired him in 2009, and he clearly got tired of being an itinerant NBA assistant.

Under Porter, UP seemingly has the ability to become a contender. Tucked away on the bluff in North Portland, the Pilots' gym, the Chiles Center, is a 4,852-seat jewel box where you can regularly see future NBA players.

(Portland Athletics)
(Portland Athletics)

The Pilots play in the West Coast Conference, anchored by perennial powerhouse Gonzaga, which somehow manages to recruit national-caliber players to the tundra of Eastern Washington.

Porter should be able to compete for upper-level high school players, especially in the prep hotbeds of Seattle and Portland. The WCC is not the Pac-12, but in recent years it launched the careers of Patty Mills (St. Mary's, San Antonio Spurs), Matthew Dellavedova (St. Mary's, Milwaukee Bucks), and Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga, Oklahoma City Thunder). Porter is just getting started, but UP (5-3) is off to a solid start.

Pilots fans will fill the gym for what is always the hottest ticket of the season, the Jan. 7 faceoff against Gonzaga (11-0), ranked No. 7 in the nation. That game is sold out, but tickets are available for games throughout January and February, when you can see the state's top college scorer, Pilots senior guard Alec Wintering, who is averaging 22.3 points a game.

The University of Portland men's basketball team plays at the Chiles Center, 5000 N Willamette Blvd., portlandpilots.com. Tickets for most games start at $12.