By John Crumpacker
In his basketball career, 5-foot-11 Alec Wintering has both looked down on, and up at, his two most recent coaches. It has nothing to do with how he felt about both men, mind you. We’re talking literally here, as in feet and inches.
At United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C., Wintering was coached by Muggsy Bogues, at 5-3 the shortest player in NBA history.
Now at Portland in the West Coast Conference, Wintering’s head coach is 6-8 Eric Reveno, who once inadvertently flattened an opponent similar to his current point guard’s size while setting a half court screen as a player at Stanford.
Wintering is used to sharp contrasts and big swings. Raised by a single mom in Phoenix, Wintering came to regard his older brother Daniel as more of a father figure than a sibling. That’s because a Grand Canyon gap of 17 years separates the brothers.
“He was pretty much like my dad,’’ Wintering said. “He’s someone who is a big figure in my life, (encouraging) me to do the right things as a man. He helped me with a lot of basketball stuff, too.’’
It seems as though Daniel Wintering did a good job with both fatherly jobs. As a junior at Portland majoring in Business, the younger Wintering, though quiet by nature, has emerged as a team leader and a big contributor for the Pilots. In Portland’s last two games of 2015, conference matchups against Pepperdine on Dec. 23 and San Francisco on Dec. 31, Wintering responded with back-to-back 30-point games, going for 34 vs. the Waves at home and 31 against the Dons on the road.
That the Pilots went 1-1 in those games, defeating Pepperdine and losing to USF, rankles Wintering despite his individual totals.
“If I could do it over, I’d much rather have a win at USF,’’ he said. “I’d rather have two wins than those 30-point games. I just try to do what I can to help my team win.’’
That’s been an uneven proposition for Reveno’s team thus far. Portland is 8-9 overall and 2-2 in conference heading into its one game this week, at travel partner Gonzaga on Saturday.
“I’d like to think we’re still trending upward,’’ Reveno said. “We’re playing very fast, scoring well. We need to tighten up a little defensively. The conference is so tough, it’s hard to say (but) I’d say we’re making progress.’’
So far, as Wintering goes, so go the Pilots. Now in his third year in the program, Wintering is averaging 17.1 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. As a team-first guy, he’s not necessarily looking to score 30 in every game – unless the defense gives him a lane here and an open look there.
“As I’ve grown as a player, I’ve been able to incorporate different things in my offensive game,’’ he said. “Being a complete player helps me and the team. It puts the team in position to win.’’
Former Portland assistant coach Joel Sobotka recognized that quality in Wintering in an early age. As a freshman, he went to the same high school in Phoenix, Sunnyslope, as former Portland standout T.J. Campbell and thus was on Sobotka’s radar.
When Wintering moved to Charlotte to live with his brother’s family, Sobotka and Portland maintained their interest in the little point guard. Meanwhile, Wintering transferred to United Faith Christian Academy, where the coach was little big man Bogues, perhaps the perfect mentor.
“It helped me develop into the player I am today,’’ Wintering said. “I was able to pick his brain about what I saw on the court. It was good. I was able to take a bunch of tidbits and notes.’’
Wintering said he remains in occasional touch with Bogues through texts and that his former prep coach offered him one piece of advice: “Just to stand out more. The best way to do that is to be a leader. Being small, he obviously did something right. He said to be a leader and separate myself from other players.’’
For his part, Reveno enjoyed meeting with a genuine NBA legend while he was recruiting Wintering. It’s not every day one gets to sit down with the shortest player in NBA history.
“I really enoyed going back there and meeting Muggsy,’’ Reveno said. “We talked about basketball, playing point guard at 5-foot-3. I came away really understanding how good it has been for Alec to have that mentor in high school, setting his mindset that being a smaller guard, he can have success and a real understanding of the point guard position, the intricacies of playing the position.’’
The question now is whether Wintering can get Portland over the .500 hump and into the top half of the WCC. Right now, it appears the Pilots could go either way.
“I think we’re fine,’’ Wintering said. “We know we have better basketball to play. We’re working on improving every game, every practice. We believe we can win a lot of games in conference.’’
At this point in his career, Wintering has two coaches in his corner – one he looks down on, the other he looks up at – while he remains comfortably in the middle.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.