FAYETTEVILLE -- Bobby Portis couldn't help it. He had to ask.
In early July when the top sports story nationally was where LeBron James would land as a free agent, Portis found himself hanging out with the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player in Las Vegas.
It wasn't a summer vacation.
Portis, Arkansas' sophomore forward from Little Rock Hall, was among 30 college players taking part in the LeBron James Skills Academy.
So Portis took the opportunity to inquire -- more than once -- where James would sign after playing the last four seasons with the Miami Heat.
"I asked him a couple of times where he was going and he didn't say anything to me," Portis said. "He just took a couple of pictures and that was it.
"He was like, 'Keep it moving, young fella. Keep it moving, young fella.' "
James left for Brazil after spending two days at his camp, then announced July 11 he was signing with Cleveland, where he played his first seven NBA seasons.
"I think I made LeBron go to Cleveland because that was my team back in the day," Portis said with a smile. "I think I had a big influence on that."
Portis said James made it fun for the campers.
"He's hilarious to be around," Portis said. "Always energetic and an outgoing person."
While Portis said he had a good time at James' camp, he worked to improve his game, too.
"It was a great experience for me to go against some of the best players in the nation and go up against guys with more experience," he said. "I think it helped me out a lot, because I came out with a ton of confidence on the block."
Portis and Arkansas junior forward Michael Qualls were invited to James' camp after taking part in camps in June.
Portis was at the Nike Elite Youth Basketball Big Man Skills Academy in Union, N.J., where the counselors included former Kentucky centers Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans) and DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings).
Qualls attended the Kevin Durant Skills Academy in Washington, D.C. for wing players. Durant, the former Texas star who earned NBA MVP honors last season playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was the camp leader.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Portis and Qualls earned their way to Las Vegas by standing out in June among their college peers.
"In those camps, your performance will get you into the LeBron camp and we saw that both of those guys got into the camp," Anderson said. "So that tells me those guys are continuing to get better."
Portis was listed at 6-10 last season, when he was voted an All-SEC second-teamer and averaged 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots to help the Razorbacks to a 22-12 record and NIT bid.
At the big man camp, Portis was measured at 6-10 1/2. That was without his shoes on.
Portis said he didn't realize he's still growing from his high school days, when he was listed at 6-9.
"With shoes I'm probably at least 7-1," he said laughing.
Portis also is adding weight and strength. He said he's about 245 pounds after playing at 238 last season. As a senior at Hall, he was listed at 225.
"His body has changed," Anderson said.
Anderson said he can see Portis maturing in other ways, including being more comfortable doing interviews and developing into a team leader.
"Hopefully, that's going to be the statement of our whole team," Anderson said. "We're a lot more mature in what we do and how we go about our business."
Arkansas was one of four teams with two players at the James' camp along with LSU, Arizona and Kansas.
"Me and Mike need to come back and be leaders to our basketball team, because out there every person who was at that camp is a leader to their team," Portis said. "I felt that was something we lacked last year in certain situations, having a leader out there on the floor."
Portis and Qualls are among six of the top seven scorers returning from last season.
"I think with the team that we have this year, we can compete with anybody," Portis said.
Arkansas' newcomers include point guards Jabril Durham, a junior college transfer, and freshman Anton Beard.
"I like Jabril Durham a lot. He always looks for me when he drives," Portis said. "He's just not going in there trying to shoot it every time.
"Anton is young, but he's tough, too. He's a hard-nosed kid."
With the returnees and newcomers, the Razorbacks appear poised to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
"That's just on paper," Portis said. "We have to go out there and prove it ourselves."
The Razorbacks won seven consecutive SEC games late season to put themselves in position to gain an NCAA Tournament bid before losing their regular-season finale at Alabama and to South Carolina in their SEC Tournament opener.
"Last year it was set up for us to make it to the tournament, too," Portis said. "Then unfortunately we lost our last two, so we have to go in with a level head and stay focused on the season."
Sports on 07/31/2014
Print Headline: Forward grows by leaps, bounds