First-year Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk initially didn’t put much stock into rumors the Porter family was interested in returning to Columbia.
That changed after a conversation with Tigers women’s basketball coach Robin Pingeton around the time college basketball’s postseason ramped up.
“It was kind of noise out there, but when Robin, the aunt of the players, said they want to come back, that was important,” Sterk said.
Pingeton’s sister, Lisa, is married to Michael Porter Sr., who was an assistant coach for the Washington men’s basketball team last season.
If anyone had inside information, Pingeton would, so that was in the back of Sterk’s mind as he mulled a replacement for Kim Anderson.
“I knew if we had somebody with credibility that had coached on that level that we had a great shot at getting the Porters to come back,” Sterk said.
He still didn’t quite appreciate the significance.
Sterk, who was hired in August, missed out on Porter mania.
He was the athletic director at San Diego State when the oldest of the Porters’ eight children, Bri and Cierra, helped build Rock Bridge High into a Missouri Class 5 dynasty before helping rebuild Mizzou’s women as well.
Sterk also missed Michael Porter Jr.’s ascension as the top 2017 prospect, including a Missouri Class 3 title run with Father Tolton Catholic High alongside younger brother Jontay last spring, before the family — sans Bri and Cierra — moved to Seattle.
“I was not around for (Michael Jr.’s) high school days, so Robin said, ‘Just YouTube him, Google him and see,’ ” Sterk said. “I did and was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ … I was excited about the possibility once I saw him on tape and then I watched a little bit of the McDonald’s All American Game.”
After zeroing in on former California coach Cuonzo Martin to replace Anderson, he didn’t force Martin to hire Porter Sr., but he wasn’t disappointed that was a priority either.
“He had already been doing his homework,” Sterk said. “He was probably five steps ahead of me.”
With Romar’s blessing, Martin made a sales pitch to Porter Sr., building a relationship and eventually offering him a staff position.
That led many to assume Porter Jr. automatically would follow.
“I don’t know if you’re necessarily pretty confident,” Martin said when asked about his confidence Porter Jr. would follow his father. “The biggest key was just getting to know his dad and also his mom, Lisa. They wanted to get to know me as well. … I think the young man wanted to do what was best for him as a player, but I think he also wanted to be here and be at Mizzou.”
Porter Jr. signed a financial-aid agreement April 12 with the Tigers, but now the real work begins.
Expectations have ramped up considerably for a program that went 8-24 last season, but Martin pays no attention to such things.
“I really don’t consume myself with that at all …,” he said. “What’s on the outside is not my expectation. It doesn’t change what I feel and I believe as a coach and how I will approach this every day.”
Still, he appreciates the building enthusiasm among fans.
“The excitement for fans and for our ballplayers, I think that’s great,” Martin said. “I think there’s great energy go into the spring and summertime and into the fall. Anytime you could have good things going on, I think it’s great.”
He also cautions that the roster isn’t set and the team’s yet to conduct a practice, so it’s too early to know how good the group — including guards C.J. Roberts and Blake Harris, another former Washington signee — can become.
“We’ve had a couple tough years here and people were down,” Martin said. “What’s really cool is seeing people really excited about Mizzou athletics. … Having the No. 1 recruit in the country commit to your program is pretty special. Then, to have him recruiting nationally at the McDonald’s All American Game, that was one thing I didn’t count on.”