As Missouri commit Michael Porter Jr. was presented with the McDonald’s All-American Game MVP award Wednesday at the United Center, a small pocket of fans broke into an “M-I-Z, Z-O-U” chant.
Porter couldn’t stop smiling.
“It felt amazing,” he said of hearing Tigers fans’ signature chant as he stood on the Bulls’ home floor. “I didn’t know there were that many Mizzou fans. For them to support me the way that they have feels amazing. I can’t wait to go home.”
Watching Porter, who started for the West team, shine among two dozen of the best high school players in the 2017 recruiting class undoubtedly felt amazing for Tigers fans, too.
Playing for the first time since he committed to Mizzou last Friday, Porter provided a glimpse into his massive potential with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds in a 109-107 victory over the East.
“I’ve got to put this at the top of the list of basketball experiences I’ve had,” Porter said. “Being a McDonald’s All-American has been my dream ever since I can remember, so to finally be here and to win the game and win MVP is more than a dream come true.”
Porter, who also won Naismith Prep Player of the Year and Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors to go with his all-star game MVP, is the first player since Dwight Howard in 2004 to sweep all three awards and only the fifth player to accomplish that feat. LeBron James (2003), Chris Webber (1991) and Alonzo Mourning (1988) were the others.
Hearing Porter mentioned among players of the that caliber is understandably thrilling for Missouri fans, who’ve endured four years without an NCAA Tournament appearance, among other indignities.
“I’m going to do everything I can help the program,” Porter said. “I’m doing my best to put in work behind the scenes recruiting a little bit.”
Porter admitted to some early jitters. He missed two shots — both three-point tries — and committed a turnover during the opening minutes before going to the bench at the first media timeout.
“Going into the game, seeing all those people with the bright lights and the big court, the nerves were there for all of us I think,” Porter said. “I finally settled in just a couple of minutes after tipoff.”
It’s little wonder, considering that every time Porter walked to the scorer’s table he passed Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, a Raytown High graduate who led Cleveland to its first NBA championship last season.
Porter admitted it was surreal, especially with Bulls guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo also at the end of the bench.
“Yeah, for sure (it was strange),” Porter said. “ … Seeing all those dudes there to see you play, it was awesome, because they’re on the level that I want to get to.”
After the initial shock wore off, Porter went to work, finishing the first half with game-highs of 12 points and seven rebounds.
Porter’s most jaw-dropping first-half highlights came on assists from Oklahoma-bound point guard Trae Young.
Young, a prep star at Norman (Okla.) North High, and Porter are best friends and former AAU Mokan Elite teammates.
Their on-court synergy showed when Porter sealed a defender on the right block and Young split the heart of the lane with a 20-foot bounce pass for a layup.
Young later perfectly lobbed an alley-oop pass from outside the three-point arc in transition that Porter slammed home with a two-handed finish.
With Porter locking up against 6-foot-11 center Mohamed Bomba, who led the East with a game-high 17 points, 6-foot-11 center Brandon L. McCoy had two blocks in the closing seconds to preserve the win.
“It was highly intense and we all know each other on a personal level,” Porter said. “That’s all we talked about the whole week was winning the game. They won the scrimmage, so we had to get them back in this game.”
Bomba and McCoy are both uncommitted and heard the Mizzou sales pitch from Porter all week, as did Tampa (Fla.) Catholic High small forward Kevin Knox II, who finished with 15 points.
“There was a smile on my face the whole time,” Knox said.
Knox’s best highlight came in the closing seconds of the first half when he slammed home an underhand lob from Alabama-bound point guard Collin Sexton, who wrapped the ball around his midsection before the pass.
“I saw it made SportsCenter’s top 10, so it was definitely one of the best moments of my game,” Knox said.
Kansas-bound 6-foot-10 power forward Billy Preston from Oak Hill Academy chipped in 10 points toward the West team’s win.