Ronnie Porter emailed Wisconsin looking for a chance. A year later, the 5-4 walk-on has worked her way into the rotation.
MADISON – How others might see Ronnie Porter is not how she sees herself.
The freshman guard for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team has earned a spot at the end of the team's rotation, spelling senior Avery LaBarbara and offering the team another option as a ball-handler.
But if Porter bought into labels, she wouldn’t be seeing the floor. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native is a walk-on and at 5-foot-4 is the shortest player in the Big Ten.
That two strikes in a game that values size and in which non-scholarship players often take at least a couple of seasons to work into the rotation. Porter doesn’t think that way.
“I see myself like everyone else on the team and when I come in, I just play like the walk-on (label) isn’t there,” she said. “That’s just a name at this point. I just take advantage of every opportunity that is given to me at this point.”
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Porter has been an unexpected find in a freshman class that started with seven players, a go-getter who took matters into her own hands when she wasn't receiving the recruiting interest she thought she deserved. She thought she could play Division I ball and so far she is proving it.
“She’s a huge addition to the team and really has connected with people from all different walks,” Badgers coach Marisa Moseley said. “It’s not like she sticks to one group of people. … She just brings a great presence that we didn’t even realize we needed, but it’s been great to have her.”
Porter is averaging 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game heading into the Badgers’ non-conference game with Valparaiso at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Kohl Center. She is averaging 8.1 minutes per game, but the 138 minutes she has played are second only to Serah Williams among the team's true freshmen. Porter has appeared in 17 games, which is also second to Williams among that class of recruits.
A greater indication of the trust Porter built quickly came in November after LaBarbera suffered an ankle injury at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands during Thanksgiving break. Porter filled in at point guard for the rest of that game and started the next, playing a season-high 35 minutes in a loss to Virginia Commonwealth.
Porter hasn’t played double-digit minutes in any game since then but is averaging about six minutes of action in the nine appearances. Against Minnesota and Maryland, she provided an offensive burst, scoring seven points on 3-for-3 shooting in a win over the Gophers Jan. 8 and hitting 3 of 4 attempts to equal that season high in a loss to the Terrapins on Thursday.
Porter’s biggest contribution to the team, however, has been a steady hand for the Badgers (6-14, 2-7 Big Ten); she has just four turnovers in her last 55 minutes of action.
"She knows (about) trying to be a difference maker when she comes off the bench, making an immediate impact,” Moseley said. “What does that look like? It could be scoring. It could be making a pass. It could be getting the steal defensively. There’s a lot of different things that she can do and I think she has really embraced that, especially knowing that she knows she’s playing the backup and that’s kind of settled in.”
Ronnie Porter sent emails in search of a chance
Like most college players, Porter was a star at the high school level, She averaged 22.7 points, 5.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game and led Como Park High School to the state tournament. The St. Paul Pioneer Press named her the East Metro player of the year.
Porter’s opportunities to play at the next level, however, were limited to the junior/community colleges. She thought she could play at a higher level, so with a nudge from her mother, who was also her high school coach, Porter took matters into her own hands and sent an email to a handful of schools where she thought she would fit in.
“I was more scared not to get a response back and she was like, do It," Porter said of her mom, "put yourself out there because you’re worth it."
How does one go about selling themselves? In Porter’s case, she went back to eighth grade – eighth graders can play high school ball in Minnesota – up to senior year, providing statistics as well as film from AAU.
She emailed them to Seton Hall, Drake, Hampton, St. Thomas and, of course, Wisconsin in search of a scholarship and waited. The Badgers had no scholarship to offer, but the staff was familiar with Porter from club ball because she played with Savannah White, a Badgers signee who left the team earlier this season.
“(The knock on me) was really just height, not skill-set wise,” Porter said. “I’m good in school. I actually came here on a full scholarship for academics. Height was the biggest thing and they were like we don’t care about height here.”
Turning a weakness into a strength
There is a definite advantage to being tall in basketball, but shorter players can thrive, too.
Moseley has talked to Porter about playing low to the ground and making defenders come to down to her level. The coach has stressed the importance of using her quickness and change of speed and direction.
That will be a continued adjustment to Porter’s game at the college level, but the seeds of success have been planted. Porter knows she belongs.
“I can facilitate. I can score the ball. I don’t really force things,” she said. “I let things come to me and my teammates appreciate that about me, so it helps me play with them better and them understand my game better.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Ronnie Porter makes mark on Wisconsin women's basketball at 5-foot-4