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The stoic and the stand out
Portals polar big men have Panthers off to perfect start
FRED AND MARIO 5 col col
Fred Williams, left, and Mario Farris are two big reasons why the Portal Panthers are off to an undefeated start this season. Williams, a senior, is averaging 20.5 points a game while Farris, ajunior, is dropping in 18.8 points a game. - photo by CHAD BISHOP/staff
    Portal’s two big men couldn’t be more different. One has an eye for the three-pointer, playing with evident emotion and cockiness to the delight of the crowd. The other quietly works hard for his points, scoring via posting-up, crashing for the tough rebound, then dropping his head and running back down the court to play defense, rarely flashing a shy smile.

    Mario Farris and Fred Williams. Just two of the reasons why PHS is off to a 7-0 start and why the Panthers are an early favorite to claim the region 3-A championship.
    Williams, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior is the apparent leader of the team; vocal, emotional, and stylish, averaging 20.5 points a game and 5.3 rebounds. In a game against Screven County on Dec. 11, a Screven fan told him to “take it easy” on her Gamecocks. Williams just smiled and said, “nah, sorry.”
    Farris is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound junior who has only been playing the game since his freshman year in Little Rock, Ark. Farris moved to Portal for family reasons and has made an immediate impact on the Panthers. He’s averaging 18.8 points a game and six rebounds.
    “It’s been a lot of fun,” said Farris. “When I moved down here I didn’t know what to expect. Last year, at my school, I was the man. Now, Fred’s the man, so he take some of that pressure off of me.”
    Williams took Farris under his wing and the two have become close on, and off the court.
    “(Mario’s) been a big help,” said Williams. “Last year, what we lost and what we gained, there ain’t no telling. He’s helped a lot to keep some of that pressure off of me, too.”
    The Panthers have gained a forward in Farris who plays above his competition, constantly crashing through double and triple teams for lay-ups and skying above everyone for one-handed rebounds. He’s the perfect modest compliment to Williams’ flare and flaunt.
    “I think I play better,” said Williams, of his frequent facial expressions, high fives, jump shot poses and crowd interactions. “When the crowd’s into it and everybody else is into it, I play better.”
    The crowd usually is into it, as the Panthers have won four of their seven games at home.
    “They’re still learning each other,” said Portal head coach Jeff Brannen. “The chemistry isn’t all there yet, but Fred’s getting used to Mario and Mario’s getting used to Fred. They should be gellin more with each game.”
    Before each game, Williams says he tries not to focus too much, staying loose so as not to dwell on the pressure of the situation. Farris, on the other hand, tries to focus as much as possible. Williams wishes he could rebound like Farris, while Farris would give anything for Williams’ jump shot. Farris likes to dunk while Williams loves the 3-ball.
    “I think they compliment each other well,” said Brannen. “Fred’s playing better defense this year and Mario’s shooting around 80 percent from the free throw line. They bring an athletic presence to the team.”
     Farris said the toughest thing about the game is getting people involved. When Williams was asked that same question he just shook his head and laughed — he couldn’t think of one.
    But for all the differences between Farris and Williams, there is one thing they agree on.
    “We want state,” they both said, referring to the ultimate goal of a state championship. There’s a good chance they’ll get it.

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912)-489-9404.