Kristaps Porzingis is a little more worldly than your average 21-year-old. He speaks multiple languages and has played professionally since 2012.
When the Knicks used the fourth pick in the 2015 NBA Draft on the forward from Latvia, a lot of fans didn’t know what to make of Porzingis.
But KP knew about the Knicks and he certainly knew that coming to New York was a lot more impressive than going to, say, Memphis.
“This is the best place in the world to play,’’ he told MSGNetworks.com earlier this season. “Getting drafted by the Knicks was a dream come true.
“Everyone knows The Garden. The fans here know basketball. And if you play well, the media attention is like nowhere else. Anything can happen here.’’
As Porzingis gained more knowledge of the city, the idea came to him that as proud as he is of his Latvian heritage, and he is damn proud, he wanted to connect more with New Yorkers on a grass roots level.
KP wanted to find a way to tap into the heart and soul of the city game.
He found it in the New York RENS, a New York not-for-profit basketball youth basketball program that provides basketball, education and life skills support for young men throughout the city.
Porzingis joined forces with the NY RENS and founded KrisSTOPS. For every blocked shot the 7-foot-3 Porzingis recorded this season, he pledged a $500 donation to the RENS Ben Jobe Educational and Scholarship Fund.
Jobe was a longtime college basketball coach and Knicks scout. He also was a strong civil rights leader.
But KP didn’t stop there. In November, when he introduced KrisSTOPS at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Porzingis issued a challenge.
“I am extremely excited to be teaming up with the RENS and the Ben Jobe Educational and Scholarship Fund,’’ Porzingis told reporters. “These are great kids that are working to better their situation. They all want to be the best students they can be and have bright futures.
“Since I’m matching my block total for the year, I would love to see some of New York’s biggest Knicks fans match it as well. Who wouldn’t want to give kids the chance to be great?”
New York City developer and philanthropist Keith Rubenstein, a Knicks season ticket holder, announced that he would also donate $500 for each Porzingis block. Philanthropist Howard Wolfson pledged $50 per block.
One hundred twenty-nine blocked shots later, KrisSTOPS presented the RENS with a check for $135,450.
“It gave me extra motivation to go for those blocks for a good cause,’’ Porzingis said with a smile.
Porzingis seemed slightly taken aback when reporters told him the amount of the donation. If KP was surprised by the amount, he should hear how overwhelmed RENS executive director Andy Borman was by the donation.
“It’s impossible to overstate what this means to our program,’’ Borman told MSGNetworks.com. “This isn’t going to help one kid. This is going to help hundreds of kids.’’
The money will go directly to academic support services for RENS players. Third through eighth graders will get tutorial assistance. Older students will have access to SAT prep work.
“This is going to give kids a choice,’’ Borman said. “Right now most of them don’t have a choice of where they go to school. They have to attend the school in their neighborhood.
“But as their academic profile improves, they’ll have the choice of going to a private school, or Catholic school or prep school. We’re literally talking about changing kid’s lives.’’
Which is exactly what Porzingis was hoping to do when KrisSTOPS was created.
“This is my home now and I hope to be here for many, many years,” Porzingis told reporters in November. “So this is only the beginning. So hopefully in the future, we can do much more and bigger things.”
KP might as well have been speaking about himself. He backed up a sensation rookie season with a very solid sophomore year.
Porzingis averaged 18.1 points on 45-percent shooting, up from 14.3 points on 42-percent as a rookie. His rebounding and shot blocking remained about the same, but Porzingis played in six fewer games (66) than he did as a rookie.
A nasty stomach flu, a sore Achilles and a balky back all conspired to limit his effectiveness in the second half of the season. Like many young players, the 7-foot-3, 240-pound Porzingis is still learning the physical toll an 82-game season can have on the body.
He is committed to making himself stronger and more durable.
“No. 1 is hitting the weight room, being there twice a day, living in there 24/7,’’ Porzingis said last week prior to the Knicks’ season finale 114-113 win over the 76ers. “It’s going to be a huge summer for me, to get better and come into next season stronger.
“Last summer I was still learning what I wanted to do, what I wanted my routine to look like. This year it’ll be clearer — when I want to work out, how long, what I need to work on more, what I need to focus on. It’s a little clearer what I want to do this offseason.’’
Porzingis initially planned on working out with groups of NBA players, including teammates Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas. But after discussions with his support staff, the decision was made for Porzingis to set up a base camp in Latvia and focus on himself.
“I want to be focused on [staying] in one place, focusing on individual work,’’ Porzingis said. “This summer is the time to do that – less traveling as I can and stay in one place.’’
Like New York, where he’s already helping to change the lives of hundreds of young people.