With Michael Porter Sr. reportedly offered a job as assistant to new Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin, top recruit Michael Jr. and his brother, Jontay, could also leave Seattle and follow him to Columbia, where they helped Tolton Regional to the 2016 Class 3 state title.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — If Michael Porter Jr. reneges on his commitment to play basketball at Washington, then Lorenzo Romar’s firing will have had immense influence on the future of another program nearly 2,000 miles away, here in Missouri.
Before he was a Husky commit and Romar’s greatest leverage for another season as Washington’s coach, Porter lived here and was the potential savior of a Missouri basketball program enduring one of the worst three-season stretches in its history. The most entertaining basketball in town didn’t occur at Mizzou Arena, where recently fired coach Kim Anderson floundered, but at Tolton Regional Catholic High School. Spectators arrived before junior-varsity games to get one of a few available plastic bleacher seats.
“He was sort of the lifeline for Missouri basketball,” Columbia Daily Tribune sports editor Joe Walljasper said. “If they could only get Michael Porter, all this trouble might be over.”
The Tigers now might do so, as improbable as that seemed months ago. New Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin has reportedly offered an assistant-coaching position to Michael Porter Sr., the father of the nation’s top recruit and one of Romar’s assistants.
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Washington announced Porter signed a national letter of intent to play for the Huskies last fall. UW athletic director Jennifer Cohen said she would release Porter and the rest of the Husky recruiting class from those binding commitments if they decide not to play for the new coach.
Porter took “Washington commit” out of his Twitter bio on Friday. Jontay Porter, his younger brother and a UW commit, announced on Twitter he was reopening his recruitment.
Before moving to Seattle, the elder Porter was an assistant coach to Robin Pingeton, his sister-in-law, on the Missouri women’s basketball team. Two Porter sisters are on the Missouri women’s team.
If Porter Jr. and his brother Jontay change their commitments from the Huskies to the Tigers, then the entire family of 10 will all be together — just as Missouri fans had hoped before the Porter family moved to Seattle.
“It just seems like a present from the gods,” Walljasper said, characterizing the sentiment among Missouri fans. “To me, it’s like winning the lottery when you don’t feel like you even played.”
Porter started playing for Tolton, a small Catholic school in Missouri’s third-largest athletic division, during just the school’s second year of varsity competition. He picked Tolton instead of Rock Bridge, the larger public school where his sisters won multiple state championships.
The long, athletic forward and his 6-foot- 9 brother overwhelmed teams. Tolton had to travel out of the area for real competition, including to Florida for a national tournament. Porter gave his school’s athletic program almost immediate legitimacy.
“Playing the best teams, living in nice hotels, going to beaches and stuff — that was amazing,” said Tolton point guard Isaiah Wilson, one of Porter’s best friends in Columbia.
The No. 1 recruit in the country would have star power regardless of where he lived. But in Columbia, he was the best player in the city’s history and the only person who could potentially save the flailing Tiger program, which has recently struck out on a number of marquee in-state recruits, including Duke’s Jayson Tatum.
When Tolton won a state title in 2016, the lower bowl of Mizzou Arena was full — a larger crowd than the ones at most recent Tigers games.
Anderson reportedly offered Porter Sr. an assistant-coaching position with the Missouri men’s team, but the father decided to work with Romar, his close friend and Michael Jr.’s godfather. Walljasper said that move helped signal the end of Anderson’s tenure.
“If you couldn’t get the kid whose father was a coach for the women’s team and was in your own hometown, who are you going to get?” Walljasper said.
Porter was as much a potential savior as he was a test of legitimacy for a Missouri program that lost national respect, and local interest waned.
Which makes the presumptive return of the Porter brothers perhaps even more exciting than if the Tigers had signed the star recruits outright.
“It was like found money,” Walljasper said.
If Porter plays as well as expected, then he’ll likely jump to the NBA after one collegiate season. He could make the Tigers interesting and competitive during Martin’s first year — but probably not much more than that.
Still, for a program that has finished last in the Southeastern Conference for three consecutive years, the saga could offer things that have been foreign to the team for a couple of years: talent and intrigue.