Michael Porter Jr.: Hopes to return thrill to Mizzou Arena
Michael Porter Jr. answered questions for more than an hour Tuesday during media day for the McDonald’s All-American Game before one of the event’s handlers ushered him to a quiet spot in the United Center’s upper deck for a brief respite.
Porter, who committed to Missouri last week after being released from the national letter of intent he signed with Washington in November, was a highly sought-after interview.
He’s spoken to gaggles of reporters before, especially as he rose to prep stardom — first at Father Tolton Catholic in Columbia, and last season as the nation’s top high school basketball prospect at Nathan Hale High in Seattle.
But Porter, 18, is still adjusting to the ever-intensifying spotlight, like the jubilant response from Tigers fans when he announced his commitment last week.
“The feedback I got was crazy,” said Porter, who is the Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. “I didn’t know there were that many Mizzou fans, but it’s been awesome. I really feel like I’ve been accepted by the Mizzou family, so I can’t wait to get there.”
All eyes will again be on Porter during the nation’s premier high school hoops all-star event, which tips off at 6 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN.
“It’s been exciting being out here with all these great players,” Porter said. “There’s tons of competition. It’s hard to score out there (in practice). It’s hard to get a rebound. Everything’s a battle for all of us, so it’s good.”
Porter also is eager to show why he was dubbed the top high school player in the country after leading the Raiders to a 29-0 season, including a Washington Class 3A state title earlier this month.
“Everybody here is a great player, but I just feel like I’m the most versatile player here,” he said. “I can play almost any position, so I feel like that’s what separates me.”
Next season, Porter — who also will participate in the Nike Hoops Summit on April 7 in Portland, Ore., and the Jordan Brand Classic on April 14 in New York — hopes to elevate Mizzou back into the national spotlight as well.
“My goal is to win a national championship,” he said. “I feel like, if you don’t dream too high, then you’re not dreaming big enough. So, my goal is a championship.”
Porter, who has yet to sign a new financial-aid agreement, is well aware that Missouri has never been to a Final Four and is coming off an 8-24 season, but he has big plans.
He likes the nucleus of returning players — led by senior forward Jordan Barnett, junior forward Kevin Puryear and junior guard Terrence Phillips — and sees them as building blocks for success.
“It doesn’t matter what school you are — Kentucky, Kansas — usually the schools that succeed in the NCAA Tournament have veteran guys and then freshman guys come in that are good,” Porter said. “Next year, we’ll have dudes that have been through it a couple of times, and good players. … With the guys that I’m trying to bring in with me, I feel like we could be a real threat.”
By no means is Porter suggesting it will be easy, but he’s optimistic and won’t shy away from the pressure he knows comes with returning home.
“There’s a lot of expectations for next year, but I just try to take the pressure away and play the game that I love,” said Porter, who’s set to become the seventh McDonald’s All-American to play for MU. “If I do that and I play my game, then all those things will take care of themselves. I don’t need to put unnecessary pressure on myself, but I welcome the expectations because we think I can do something special next year.”
There is, however, a small unresolved matter with a soon-to-be teammate. Porter prefers jersey No. 1, but that number’s already claimed by Phillips.
“Me and Terrence still have a little discussion to do,” Porter Jr. said. “We’ll probably play one-on-one for the No. 1.”