Through all the madness that has occurred so far this off-season for the Portland Trail Blazers, the one move that caught everyone by surprise was the sudden 3-year, approximately $2.3 million signing of Westchester Community College star, Luis Montero. The amount of eyes that will roll after reading that our newest signing is from a community college is understandable, but let’s delve deeper into the story of Luis Montero and why he was, not too long ago, considered a potential late-first rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Luis Montero was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and had become one of the top basketball prospects of his country as a teenager. Montero’s coach back home had connections with Stan Heath, who at the time was the head coach for the University of Southern Florida basketball team, and had devised a plan to get the 6’7″ guard into a guided road to the NBA through USF. That so-called guided road to the NBA was immediately met by roadblock after roadblock, but that wouldn’t stop Montero from one day achieving his dream.
After discussing this plan with his coach and family in 2011, Montero, at the age of 19, moved away from his home in the Dominican Republic to the foreign city of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where he would then play basketball at Wilbraham & Monson Academy, a basketball-centric prep school. Montero found himself roughly 1640 miles away from home, and it was all for the love of the sport.
Montero was ballin’ it up at Wilbraham & Monson Academy and was committed to play D1 NCAA college basketball at the University of Southern Florida. However, at this time, Montero was met by his first roadblock; he was academically ineligible to attend USF and, by way, was ineligible to play basketball for Stan Heath’s Bulls. He was thrown into his first year of high school in the United States as a senior, which doesn’t leave me surprised that he struggled to adapt academically. But the dream wasn’t over for Montero, it just took another path; one that took him to Valhalla, New York.
Still committed to USF, Montero was given the goal of raising his grades at Westchester Community College. While attempting to do so, Montero played ball for Westchester’s 2013-2014 season, averaging 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals as a freshman. His efforts led Westchester to a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Tournament appearance. Things were on the up and up for the combo guard, but tragedy struck once more; Westchester Community College was forced to cancel it’s 2014-2015 season amid an investigation that the college had allegedly altered previous basketball team member’s transcripts, making them inaccurately eligible to join a Division 1 NCAA college basketball team.
While Montero was still committed to join USF for the 2014-2015 season, bypassing the WCC issue, his grades were still not at an admissible level. Montero was now attending a community college that had no basketball team, which would, in theory, put his dreams of a professional basketball career at a screeching halt. However, he wasn’t going to give up. He spent his time at Westchester Community College practicing his game in the gym before transferring in January, 2015, to South Plains College in Texas, where he would begin another season of junior college basketball for the 2015-2016 season. However, basketball experts had seen enough from the Dominican standout. They didn’t need big college confirmation to see that this kid was overflowing with natural athletic ability, a silky shooting touch, a never give up attitude, and just gobs and gobs of NBA potential. Luis Montero was being considered a possible late first-round/second round draft pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Montero worked out for a number of NBA teams pre-draft; Blazers, Knicks, Suns & Thunder just to name a few. However, his name was not called on draft night. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Montero, who was bombarded with invites to join Summer League rosters by various NBA teams. At the end of the day, Portland ended up victorious by not only adding the 22-year old to their summer roster, but penning him to a 3-year NBA contract as a new member of the up-tempo, new-look, young Portland Trail Blazers.
The young, fun-loving culture that Neil Olshey has crafted in Portland is being built around star point guard Damian Lillard. Olshey has added guys who are just as nice off the court as their ability and passion is on the court. This very culture is one that has become a recipe for victory for years on end; i.e. San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, and Miami Heat. This is something that Olshey evidently wants to bring to Portland, something that we may have been missing with a couple conflicting personalities over the last few years.
Andre Miller of Blazer Gang spoke to Luis Montero today, striving to learn a little bit more about our newest Rip City addition. “In my off-time outside of basketball, I like to talk with my family, watch movies, listen to music and play video games,” said Montero.
When asked what past or present NBA player he would compare himself to, he responded with a humble, yet confident answer: “I don’t know…” Montero paused, “I do a lot of things.” In other words, let his work on the court answer that for you. He’s a 6’7″ athletic, scoring freak who can play both the PG & SG position. Though many sites are listing him as a small forward, they clearly aren’t doing their homework.
Montero’s first opportunity in an NBA jersey, albeit a Summer League one, came against the Boston Celtics, where he hit a lone pull up three-pointer, 1-4 shooting. “My first time going onto the floor I was like, ‘Take a deep breath,’” said Montero of his first NBA game jitters. Game 2 against the Dallas Mavericks was a more comfortable one for the lanky guard, who has a 7’1″ wingspan, where he finished with 5 points, 2-4 shooting, 4 rebounds, and an assist. Game 3 against the Spurs was a short one for Montero, who saw only 6 minutes and 28 seconds of PT. He finished with 0 points off of 0-2 shooting, though he added 2 rebounds and a block, showing that he is versatile enough to show up on the stat-sheet even when the shot isn’t dropping, a valuable ability.
The Portland Trail Blazers will be taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves, led by #1 overall 2015 NBA draft pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, tomorrow at 7:30 PST. Whether Luis Montero will get his chance to shine in this game remains uncertain. One thing we do know for certain though; Luis Montero, the kid who left his home country at the age of 19, only to have his NBA dreams be hit with roadblock after roadblock, will be receiving plenty of opportunities to develop and shine over the next 3 years in a Portland Trail Blazers uniform.