Six years removed from high school, Abel Porter is learning there’s still a first time for everything.
A native of Farmington, Utah, Porter graduated in 2014 and undertook a two-year mission trip before ultimately walking onto the Utah State basketball team. There was no fielding interest from college coaches and weighing options at the time, only an opportunity to earn a role for the Aggies.
Now, after a four-year career that included a medical redshirt as a freshman, Porter put his name into the transfer portal to explore options for a potential final season of basketball. The final result was Saturday’s commitment to Ohio State, where he will assume the role of primary backup to the only other two true guards on the roster.
It’s been a unique ride.
"This was my first time ever being really recruited, so the whole process to me was new," he told The Dispatch.
In four years at Utah State, Porter averaged 4.3 points, 2.4 assists and 1.9 rebounds in 94 career games including 55 starts. As a fourth-year junior last season, Porter started all 34 games for an Aggies team that went 26-8, averaging a career-high 5.6 points per game and shooting 38.2% from the floor.
He enjoyed his time there. But with a Master’s degree in business administration in sight, Porter said he spoke with coach Craig Smith and let him know that his tenure with the program was approaching a natural ending point. The other players he came to school with were graduating, his wife was graduating and it was time to move on.
The Aggies had won the Mountain West conference tournament, clinching the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, on March 7. Five days later, March Madness was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the following day Porter put his name into the transfer portal while also realizing that he might simply be done playing basketball.
Then schools started reaching out. Within a week or two, Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon did so. Then coach Chris Holtmann followed up the next day, and the Buckeyes began to build a relationship.
"Things like academics and experience at a program became bigger for me," he said. "I’m not a person who’s going to be hunting shots. I wasn’t transferring looking to go average 20 points a game or get 20 shots a game somewhere. I just wanted a place where I could impact, somewhere that was going to win games and win at a high level. Also somewhere that I could get a great degree and Ohio State is a place like that."
It helped that the Utah native had a connection both to the program and to the city. Last season, Utah State played a first-round NCAA Tournament game in Columbus, a trip that his future wife was able to make.
"When you talk to these schools their words can only go so far in getting a feel on how things will be," he said. "A big part of my recruiting was where will she be comfortable, and where can we be happy together? "The fact that she had already been there, she loved Columbus and said it was such an amazing spot, it was a comfortable decision for both of us."
Once Ohio State reached out to him, Porter said he reached out to an in-state friend he had grown up playing against and working out with. Connor Fulton, a walk-on for the 2017-18 season before moving to Japan to become a professional player, is from Salt Lake City.
"We used to get shots up together," said Porter, who is three years older than Fulton. "He was super helpful in giving me some perspective on everything (about Ohio State) from a players’ point of view."
Ultimately, Porter picked the Buckeyes after also receiving interest from Stanford, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and Hawai’i.
"That’s the weird thing about my situation is you hear the range of those programs and think that’s such a big difference," he said. "All of them were telling me different things in how I’d be used and the role I’d have and Ohio State just felt the best of them all. We have some great guards, some great scorers ahead of me. I feel like I can supplement them and help them succeed."
For now, Porter remains like the rest of the country, staving off boredom at home with Twitter searches and binge-watching shows on Netflix. Pedon is getting him copies of the team’s workout plans so he can be as ready as possible for whenever he is allowed to actually arrive on his new campus for the first time.
Then he can get started on what he hopes will be a final chapter that will echo what he experienced at Utah State.
"We’re super blessed we were able to end our season," he said. "I’m glad we got to at least win a championship. It was unfortunate we couldn’t go to the NCAA Tournament but I’m excited to go there next year with this team."