University of Missouri

Michael Porter Jr. says ‘it could be something real special’ to play at Missouri

Nathan Hale forward Michael Porter Jr. dribbles downcourt against Garfield in the first half of the Washington state boys 3A high school basketball championship, Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Tacoma, Wash.
Nathan Hale forward Michael Porter Jr. dribbles downcourt against Garfield in the first half of the Washington state boys 3A high school basketball championship, Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Tacoma, Wash. AP

The nation’s top high school basketball player, Michael Porter Jr., is a free agent again.

During a teleconference Wednesday, Porter Jr. said his father has been offered an assistant coaching job at Missouri and he will request a release from the national letter of intent he signed with Washington in November.

The Huskies’ decision last week to fire men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar, who is Porter Jr.’s godfather, opened the door for the change of heart.

“I was upset that they fired Coach Romar,” Porter Jr. said by phone after he was announced as the 2016-17 Gatorade National Boys High School Basketball Player of the Year.

“That was disappointing, because a part of me felt like they didn’t believe in me or the class coming in because they didn’t give him a chance with us.”

Now, he’ll reconsider all options for his college career, including the possibility of playing at Missouri for new coach Cuonzo Martin.

“Ever since fifth grade, that’s where I grew up and where I became the player I am today,” Porter Jr. said of Columbia. “To be able to go back there, I know those fans are hungry and I’ve been shown a lot of love from Mizzou fans. It could be something real special to be able to come home and do my thing there.”

After three seasons at Father Tolton Catholic High in Columbia, including a Missouri Class 3 state title in 2016, Porter Jr. moved to Seattle last summer when his father, Michael Porter Sr., joined Romar’s Washington staff as an assistant.

Porter Jr. averaged 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game for Nathan Hale High as a senior and is the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, according to ESPN and Rivals.

“It was definitely tough,” Porter Jr. said of moving 2,000 miles away. “I knew nobody in Seattle, so I was just taking a leap of faith with my family. One of the blessings coming out here to Seattle, I had no friends, so I was spending all my free time in the gym getting better. This last year obviously was a big year for me, and I took my game to the next level. It was definitely a blessing, but it might be time for something else now.”

Porter Jr.’s final top five before committing to Washington last summer included Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Indiana, which recently fired coach Tom Crean.

While declining to say how many schools he’s considering now, Porter Jr. — a 6-foot-9, 225-pound prospect, who is expected to be a top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft — said MU, Washington and Oklahoma, where his friend Trae Young has committed to play next season, remain on the list.

“First of all, I want to feel like I’m connected to the coaching staff, because they’re the ones who are going to be guiding me and my college career,” he said. “That’s a big part. Second of all, I want to be in the system I can thrive in and, ultimately, be able to get to that next level.”

He also said an enthusiastic fan base and a place where “I feel like I belong” are important, but Mizzou’s recent struggles, including the recently completed 8-24 campaign, won’t have much impact.

“I've always been the type of kid that wants to go make a difference at a school,” Porter Jr. said. “Coming out here to Seattle, that being who I am, I decided to go to Nathan Hale before I knew Brandon Roy was going to be the (Raiders’) coach.

“I went there knowing that I could make a big difference to a school that didn’t have anything like that before. With college, I don’t want it to be any different. I want to go somewhere where I feel like I could help change the program and help do something special.”

The University of Missouri announced the hiring of Cuonzo Martin as men's basketball coach on Wednesday, March 15. Get to know the former Missouri State, Tennessee and California head coach.

There’s no timetable for a decision, but Porter Jr. hopes it won’t take “more than a couple weeks.”

“I don’t plan to draw it out and make it more suspenseful than it needs to be …,” he said. “As soon as I feel comfortable and feel like it’s the right decision, I’ll make that decision.”

Porter Jr. said he’d never met Martin before this week, when he flew to Seattle for a meeting with Porter Sr. about possibly joining his new staff with the Tigers.

“Coach Romar knew (Martin) really well and my dad knows who he was,” Porter Jr. said. “My dad went to meet with him, and I trust my dad. He said Cuonzo’s a great guy and he’s a winner. He has a competitiveness to him, so I’ve heard all great things about him.”

Martin has offered Porter Sr. a position as assistant coach, “but he’s yet to accept it because, obviously if he accepts it before I know if I want to go there, people are going to expect me to follow him,” Porter Jr. said. “He wants to be careful about that. Right now, as a family we’ve been talking every night and kind of weighing out everything.”

Porter Jr., who said he had yet to speak to new Washington coach Mike Hopkins but plans to, added there’s no guarantee he’ll follow his father to a school.

“But it does make sense, if he goes to a big school that I do want to play under my dad,” Porter Jr. said. “It’s not him forcing me, it’s that I trust my dad, I love my dad, and I want to be close to family. That would be a great situation for me.”

Porter Jr. said his younger brother, 2018 four-star power forward prospect Jontay Porter, is considering an early graduation and reclassifying to enter college next season, which could make for an even greater situation.

“That’s something he’s highly considering,” Porter Jr. said. “He’s definitely considering classifying up to play with me because we feel like we play well together and feed off each other. That would be cool to play with each other at the next level, but even if he doesn’t there’s nothing saying that I won’t stay two years to play with him.”

Missouri men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin was asked about Michael Porter Sr. and his son, Michael Porter Jr., on Monday, March 20, 2017. Porter Sr. is a former coach on the Missouri women's basketball staff as well as the Washington men's staf

The Porter brothers helped Nathan Hale to a perfect 29-0 season, including a Washington Class 3A state championship and mythical national title as the No. 1 team in the USA Today Super 25.

Porter Sr. worked on the Mizzou women’s basketball staff for six seasons before going to Washington and his wife, Lisa, is the sister of Tigers women’s coach Robin Pingeton’s sister.

Two of Porter Jr.’s sisters, Cierra and Bri, have been part of the MU women’s team in recent years.

“It would be amazing to be back there with them,” Porter Jr. said. “Family is important to me, so that’s a big consideration, but there’s a lot of other factors that go into it.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer