Published March 02. 2013 4:00AM Updated March 02. 2013 9:42AM
Montville — He's grown accustomed to getting the star treatment, being banged, bumped and bruised all over the court.
On one drive to the basket during Friday night's Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament final, Keith Porter, New London's tough all-purpose player, was knocked hard to the floor.
Porter smiled as he slid on his backside. The ball went in. He got up and converted the three-point play to extend a third-quarter lead to 10.
Following its inspirational senior leader, New London beat Norwich Free Academy 52-39 at St. Bernard School.
No matter what the Wildcats did, they couldn't contain Porter, who had a game-high 24 points and added 17 rebounds. He earned tournament Most Valuable Player honors, scoring 80 points in three tournament games.
"They always play hard and try to get into our best player's head," Porter said. "They did it last year with Kris (Dunn). They were fouling, fouling, fouling. I kept that in my mind."
Porter remained cool even when Ryer Caruso delivered a hard foul with 59 seconds left. Play stopped, as both coaches - New London's Craig Parker and NFA's Neal Curland - helped prevent an emotional situation from blowing up.
"Keith is used to it," Parker said of the physical play. "He's the focal point of all the teams this year. He's faced that all year."
Dunn took a beating, too, last year, including against NFA, while leading the Whalers to the ECC championship.
Porter's accomplishment is arguably more significant given that his supporting cast is much younger and the Whalers came in as the No. 3 seed.
"It was a bigger one for me, because I always played a role," Porter said. "Now as a leader I had to score, rebound, play defense - everything."
Everyone in the packed St. Bernard gym knew the powerful and quick Porter was going to attack. When he grabbed a defensive rebound and took off down the floor, the Wildcats had little luck stopping the oncoming train from arriving at the station.
NFA's Marcus Outlow, a gifted athlete, drew the defensive assignment and did his best to make life difficult for his good friend.
"He's a great player, a great friend of mine," Outlow said. "He's very respectful, a very humble kid. I played with him since I was in sixth grade. We go way back. I look forward to playing him every time. He gives me a challenge.
"He definitely deserved it. He played his behind off."
Porter's next goal is to lead the Whalers to a state championship. It will take a Herculean effort to complete that mission.
But he's already accomplished another major goal: joining the list of New London basketball greats.
"Absolutely, he has done that," Parker said. "He's playing in Jewish Community Center game in Bridgeport versus New Jersey. He was selected for that 10-player team. I would anticipate he's going to be an all-stater.
"He has over 1,400 career points. Leading this particular team to this championship tonight, he certainly left his mark."
You'd get no argument from Curland, who's watched his share of Whaler greats.
Curland was just happy to limit Porter to 24 points.
"That's where we wanted him," Curland said. "That's no disrespect. He was certainly a handful. He did a great job playing in foul trouble and a lot of our focus had to be on him."