Michael Porter Jr. Relishes Change Ahead Of College
The dunk was thunderous. Video made its way around the Twitter-sphere, and on just about every recruiting site there is. You just do not see those types of plays everyday in high school basketball, or in state championship games.
A kid throws the ball off the backboard, cocks it back with his right hand and throws it down. A timeout is called and the entire team is on the court. The coach is even throwing fist pumps.
The kid is 6-foot-10, 212-pound Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 ranked prospect of the 2017 class in the ESPN100 and several other accounts. As Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School was finishing out a state championship campaign on March 4, a moment resonated with Porter, and in that instance, he found himself with 45 feet of free space.
“I saw the shot was about to airball, and so I just started running to the other end because I saw my brother was going to get the rebound. And then, he found me all by myself and I realized, this might be my last two points of my high school career. I had to go out with a bang. So, I just tossed it up and it worked out.”
The dunk capped off an illustrious, challenging and adaptive high school career for Porter. His father accepted an assistant coaching position with the University of Washington’s men’s basketball program prior to Michael’s senior year of high school, and the Porter family uprooted from Columbia, Missouri, to the Pacific northwest
Porter’s rise began in Columbia at Father Tolton Catholic High School, where he helped the Trailblazers to their first basketball state title in school history in 2015-16, averaging 28.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
But, the move to Seattle did not position Porter, or his brothers, junior Jontay and freshman Coban, in necessarily a great situation. Afterall, Nathan Hale posted a 3-18 record the year before their arrival.
“I’ve always been the type of dude that wants to go and make a difference,” he began. “That’s part of the reason why I didn’t strongly consider Kentucky or Duke or one of those schools where I could just be another name. I wanted to go do something special. There was an opportunity for that at Nathan Hale.”
There was no shying away from this challenge. And then, as it was truly meant to be, an important piece to the puzzle fell in place in the form of a new coach – three-time NBA All-Star Brandon Roy.
“There was no better situation for me. He is fresh out the league. He was an NBA All-Star. He was teaching me things that pros do right now, so I was taking my game to a whole new level.
“He taught me stuff off the court that I know I will deal with later in life, and things on the court – like reading the game – I mean, I owe that dude a lot.”
This season was Roy’s first as a head coach, and who better to have than the nation’s premier prospect? Nathan Hale welcomed six new players, and they jelled quickly. So well, in fact, the Raiders never lost, going 29-0 to claim their first state championship in school history.
Porter scored 27 points and hauled in 17 rebounds in the title game, and averaged 34.8 ppg. and 13.8 rpg. his senior year. He totaled 3,427 points in four years of high school ball.
On March 20, Porter and Roy were honored as the 2017 Naismith National High School Player and Coach of the Year, respectively, marking the third time in the award’s history that a player and his coach share top honors.
“It was a special year. Coming to Seattle, playing with a whole bunch of dudes that I’ve never met before,” said Porter.
“It was just amazing to see how closely knit we became within such a short period of time. I mean, some of the teams we played had been together for three or four years, so I feel like it was awesome how we developed the chemistry so quick.”
Nathan Hale’s play was flashy and exciting, and it earned them USA Today’s No. 1 national ranking at the end of the season. Along with being the best player on the country’s best high school team, there was no lack of attention, photographs or autograph requests for Porter.
“Not every kid gets that opportunity. My parents, my friends, my coaches, they try to keep me grounded and humble,” he said.
“I’ve realized that most of this isn’t even me. I didn’t ask to be 6-foot-10. That’s something God did for me, so I just try to stay humble and realize how blessed I am.”
He checks just about every box – tall, athletic, skilled, a playmaker. He is part of a growing trend of positionless players and his ability to put the ball on the floor makes him a serious matchup problem. Roy, he says, is working with him on his ball handling and playing lower to the ground.
Beyond high school ball, Roy helped elevate Porter’s game in another setting, with another crop of players – pick-up hoops. Not just your ordinary pick-up, though. Pick-up with pros from Seattle.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, Milwaukee Bucks center Spencer Hawes, Minnesota Timberwolves guard Zach Lavine and Delaware 87ers guard Nate Robinson are names that joined in.
“We’d be up at the gym two days of the week, just running and playing. It was a great experience being on the floor with those guys. It was crazy. That took my game to the next level, just seeing how they approach this game,” Porter said, noting that he and Jamal still chat every so often.
Sounds fun, right? That is what Roy has emphasized to Porter all along, to “make sure the game stays fun.”
“You have to have fun playing it or else you will burn out quickly. I love this game, but it’s important to enjoy doing it,” Porter said.
Porter still seems to be having a good time. The McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic athlete looks forward to the Nike Hoop Summit on April 7 for that very reason.
“It will be real cool. It’s the USA versus the World Team. We’re trying to show why USA Basketball is the best basketball, so I think it’s going to be a great experience. And, it’s a cool opportunity to play with my friends one last time before college starts.”
This past summer, Porter played with the USA U18 National Team in Valdivia, Chile, at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. Porter started all five games for the USA en route to his first gold medal, averaging a team-leading 15.8 ppg., 5.6 rpg. and 2.4 apg. He called it, “one of the best basketball experiences I’ve ever had” despite it coming in July during the Chilean winter and the gym having no heat.
Through high school, summer ball and time with USA Basketball in 2016, Porter cemented himself at the top. One would think a ton of pressure comes with that, but Porter has found a way to brush it aside.
“The pressure, I used to feel, but the way I deal with it now is – you can’t care what people think of you even if you have a bad game or bad stretch of games, if people on social media are talking bad about you, or whatever,” he explained.
“What matters is you’re doing the best you can do, and if you’re giving it your all and control what you can control, that takes the pressure off.”
More than anything, Porter wishes to be remembered as a quality leader and teammate, and not just for some jaw-dropping dunk in a state title game. He takes brotherhood seriously, both in basketball and literally with Jontay and Coban and his five other siblings. He has been playing since age three, when his father put the ball in his hands. It is a family affair and a love affair for him.
“Basketball is a passion of mine and my whole family. I just feel like God puts people in situations to see them succeed and to see them do what they do for his glory. I feel like I was made for this, and I feel that I serve a bigger purpose than for me to just get to the NBA with it.”
Don’t miss Porter and his USA teammates in the 2017 Nike Hoop Summit, and get your tickets now: http://bit.ly/HoopSummitTix.