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All In The Family: How Washington’s Michael Porter package deal came to fruition

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Michael Porter Jr., who may be the best prospect in high school basketball and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, committed to Washington late on Friday night, a surprising move for anyone that doesn’t know the details of the situation.

Lorenzo Romar is no stranger to NBA-ready talent. In the 14 seasons that he’s been the head coach of the Washington Huskies, he’s sent nine players to the first round of the NBA Draft and has had 11 players selected in the top 40. That doesn’t include Isaiah Thomas, who is currently the best Washington alum playing in the NBA after being drafted 60th in 2011. He’s had five first round picks in the last five years, including ushering a pair of one-and-done talents off to the 2016 NBA Draft, Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray.

Romar gets guys to the league.

“I plan to be one and done,” Porter told NBCSports.com last week, “if I’m good enough.”

And he probably will be.

But Porter also made it a point to mention that he doesn’t want to go to a college “that will develop me but not win,” which has more or less been the story of the Washington Huskies for the last decade. Romar has been to the NCAA tournament just six times in the 14 years he’s spent in Seattle. He hasn’t been to the tournament since 2011, including a year where his Huskies were on the wrong side of the bubble despite winning the Pac-12 regular season title.

So how did a kid from the midwest, who grew up in Columbia, Missouri, wind up picking a mediocre basketball program in the Pacific Northwest?

His dad, Michael Porter Sr.

That’s who Romar hired as an assistant coach in May, and that’s when everyone knew that the announcement Michael Jr. made on Friday was an inevitability.

You hire the dad, you get the kid, and when the kid is as good as Michael Jr. is, the hire is always going to be worth it.

On the surface, it appears unseemly and, frankly, typical; a embattled coach plays in the recruiting dirt to try and salvage a stalled career. We’re a Ricky Roe duffel bag and an Oscar-worthy performance from Shaq away from the script of Blue Chips.

But there’s more to this story than a quick payday for pops.

The Porters keep it in the family.

——

There are eight of them.

Bri, a junior, and Cierra, a sophomore, are members of Missouri’s women’s basketball team. Michael Jr. will be joined by Jontay, a top 100 prospect in the Class of 2018, and Coban, a rising freshman, at Nathan Hale HS in Seattle this fall. Jevon and Izaak will follow in their older siblings’ footsteps eventually, while Jayda, the baby of the bunch, is not yet old enough to allow this basketball family to run five-on-five.

“Michael is too competitive for that,” Michael Sr. joked.

It didn’t, however, keep the Porter family from doing their bonding on a basketball court. Michael Sr. started training his kids when they were young, some of them before kindergarten. The focus, he said, was to ensure that his kids developed perimeter skills. You see, Michael Sr. is 6-foot-4, as is his wife, Lisa. She played at Iowa and professionally in Europe. Michael Sr. played at New Orleans. He knew his kids were probably going to be tall, and he knew they would probably be athletic. That kind of thing tends to run in the family, but it’s also the kind of trait that can pigeon-hole a player down the road.

“They were taller when they were younger,” Michael Sr. said, “and everyone kept putting them under the basket. ‘Get the rebounds, don’t dribble, throw it to a guard.’ What if my daughter or my son ends up 5-foot-8?”

So he taught them how to dribble and he taught them how to shoot while teaching them to love the game and ingraining in them a love for the process that’s required when trying to be the best at what you do.

All the while, Lisa was teaching her kids.

Literally.

The Porters home-schooled their children. The five oldest lasted through the eighth grade, when high school transcripts and college eligibility would have become the complicating factor. They plan on doing the same with the three youngest.

“Lisa and I wanted our values to be imprinted on our children rather than our culture’s values,” Michael Sr. said. “We just thought by home-schooling them until they’re a little bit older, personalities form. In our culture and our home, day in and day out, we could form some stuff that we hoped would stick once they went to school.”

Lisa has an MBA. She had a career with Hewlett-Packard, a job where she was good enough that her company would allow her time off in the summer to travel with the Athletes In Action basketball team, where she met her husband (and Lorenzo Romar, more on that in a minute). AIA is, essentially, a basketball team of missionaries, one built with a myriad of former college players that travel the country and the world playing exhibitions and spreading their belief. The first thing you see when you go to the website for AIA is, “For the growth of the game and the growth of its people, to the Glory of God.”

“I vowed that I would never be a stay-at-home mom and I would never home school my kids and I wouldn’t do those types of things,” Lisa said. “I just had a mindset of being very ambitious in my career. The sacrifice of being at home with them and giving them a foundation, I would do it all over again in a heart beat.”

“It’s a laying down of your life to serve.”

Service is something that is important to this family. They’re quite religious. Michael Sr. spent more than a decade producing and performing Christian hip hop under the stage name Rahlo, which is not exactly the most profitable or popular genre of music. But he was good enough that it allowed him to travel around the world to perform. He says he toured South Africa twice, making it to a handful of European countries. He even brought Michael Jr. with him to a show in Jamaica when Jr. was nine years old.

That music career began right as Michael Sr.’s time with AIA was ending. He was volunteering with Romar, going into the worst neighborhoods in Cincinnati, where the two lived at the time, to try and build a connection with the kids that had nothing. As Michael Sr. explains it, the goal was to design summer bootcamps that gave the kids at high schools with extremely low graduation rates a chance to develop life skills that they never had the opportunity to learn.

“One of the biggest issues they had was reading comprehension,” he said. “They could read the words, but when I said, ‘tell me what that means,’ they had a big time issue with recall.”

“But we all loved hip hop. They knew every word to every song. They knew context. They knew everything. So I started dabbling around, putting everything I wanted to teach them into rhyme form. Doing raps. Put some rhythm to it and they didn’t know they were learning.”

Eventually, Michael Sr.’s rap career came to an end as more and more bundles of joy with mouths to feed arrived, but the statement was made.

Not only did the Porters consider it essential that their values were imprinted on their children that they opted for home-schooling, they thought it important enough for Lisa to sacrifice a promising career so Michael Sr. could use his platform to connect with young people and spread the message that he — that they — believed so strongly in.

——

Keelon Lawson knew what he had in his sons.

K.J. was a top-100 player in the Class of 2015, a versatile 6-foot-8 forward with the perimeter skill set to command the interest of high major programs in and around his Memphis home. Dedric, a top 20 player in the Class of 2016, was even better, a potential first round pick, and the folks in Memphis that have seen the two youngest Lawsons play will tell you that the best is yet to come. Chandler, who just finished his freshman year of high school, is popping up in the top ten of the scouting services that rank kids that age.

Josh Pastner, then the Memphis head coach, knew that it was a priority for him to keep the Lawsons at home, so he hired Keelon as an assistant coach back in the summer of 2014. That landed K.J. and Dedric, who reclassified and enrolled at Memphis last summer, graduating high school the same year as his brother that was a year older than him.

Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (1) goes up for a shot between Connecticut forward Shonn Miller (32) and guard Daniel Hamilton, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the American Athletic Conference men's tournament in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, March 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Memphis forward Dedric Lawson (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Keelon’s offseason was spent using his sons’ NBA Draft status as leverage in a power play to try and remain on staff as one of Tubby Smith’s three full-time assistants. It didn’t work, thanks to a rule that the NCAA tried to quietly change back in April.

Six years earlier, in April of 2010, the NCAA instituted a rule that tried to eliminate the package deals they believed had become too commonplace. College basketball programs, as they are wont to do, found a loophole in the system that allowed them to pay someone close to a prospect they were pursuing: Give them a job. Kansas hired Mario Chalmers’ father Ronnie as their Director of Basketball Operations. Milt Wagner was hired into the same position by John Calipari in order to get his son, DaJuan, to Memphis. Cal also hired Lamont Peterson, who was a trainer and an assistant coach in the high school ranks, as an administrative assistant to land Tyreke Evans. The practice dates all the way back to Larry Brown hiring Danny Manning’s father.

The NCAA didn’t put an end to that, but they did make these package deals harder to manage. In order for a head coach to hire someone associated with a prospect within two years of that prospect enrolling at the school, that person would have to be hired into one of the three full-time assistant coaching positions on a college staff. You can bring on the father or AAU coach of a player you want as a part of your program, but you do so at your own risk; that new hire will be one of the guys developing players at practice, on the road recruiting and helping you break down film during the season.

It’s a risk, but one that the NCAA helped mitigate this offseason. The rule change that was put into effect now allows the person hired as part of the package deal to be demoted into an administrative role — like Director of Basketball Operations — after spending two years on staff.

Which is why Tubby Smith was able to keep all three Lawsons in the Memphis program for at least one more year.

So Keelon will have to settle for making six figures at Memphis without the title of ‘assistant coach’, a move that is now perfectly legal, according to the NCAA rulebook.

But legality is not enough to wash away the stench that comes with using the collegiate eligibility of your child to strong-arm a new boss in a job you’re only qualified for because your sons were blessed with size and athleticism.

Some critics will be quick to lump the Porters in with the Lawsons.

It’s not always that cut and dry.

——

The biggest issue for home-schooled children is the transition into ‘regular school’, when they’re suddenly forced into being in a building with hundreds or thousands of kids their age. That wasn’t the biggest problem for the Porters. When it’s at full capacity, their house has more people in it than the AP classes I took in high school.

“The socialization concerns that comes up with home school, we got that going on under our own roof,” Lisa said. “We have to work through stuff, conflict resolution, all that. So it just hasn’t been the transition that maybe it is for some kids.”

That doesn’t mean that the transition has been perfect, either.

“We’d go out to a restaurant and, ‘Hey, what do you guys want?’ The waitress would be there and, [they’d look at my wife and I],” Michael Sr. says. “‘Tell that to her!'”

With that situation playing itself out all-too-often, Lisa and Michael Sr. realized that they needed to find a way to get their kids to be comfortable in public, interacting with strangers.

And that’s when Snowie came to fruition.

Three summers ago, the Porters purchased a shaved ice stand and plopped it in a strip mall parking lot at the corner of a busy intersection in Columbia. The parents oversaw the business, but the day-to-day operations were handled almost entirely by the kids.

“They grew up running it,” Michael Sr. said.

“It was an opportunity to learn people skills, a work ethic and responsibility and all the skills that comes along with that,” Lisa added. Given the hectic schedule of summertime basketball, it’s difficult to find a job that would have the flexibility to allow a kid working during the summer to travel as much as the Porters traveled. This stand did exactly that.

There’s no better way to learn how to run a business than by, you know, running a business. There’s no better way to learn the value of a dollar than by earning that dollar yourself.

And it sure did help with the grocery bill, which can get exorbitant when 10 vegetarians, eight of whom are high-level athletes, are living under the same roof.

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 8: Coach Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies directs his players in the first half of the game against the San Diego State Aztecs at the Viejas Arena on December 8, 2013 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)
Lorenzo Romar of the Washington Huskies (Photo by Kent C. Horner/Getty Images)

But the stand was also another example of the Porters keeping everything within the family.

That’s what they did in 2010, when Robin Pingeton was hired as Missouri’s head women’s basketball coach. Pingeton is Lisa Porter’s sister, and she brought Michael Sr. on as a Director of Basketball Operations. He’d spend three years in that role before being promoted to assistant coach, and his two oldest daughers — Bri and Cierra — would eventually play for the Tigers.

And that’s also what happened when Michael Sr. decided to finally accept a position as an assistant coach on Romar’s staff. He had been offered the job twice before, nearly taking it last spring before eventually deciding to turn it down. He wanted to make sure Cierra, who was a freshman last season, was settled in school before the family up and moved across the country.

And Romar isn’t just Washington’s head coach. He’s Michael Jr.’s godfather. “Lorenzo’s been in my life,” he said. Not Coach Romar, mind you. Not Mr. Romar. Lorenzo.

“It isn’t just recently that we got to know him. He’s been in my life throughout. We had a relationship before any of this recruiting stuff started.”

He’s also Michael Sr.’s best friend, a man that Porter credits for changing his life. Romar found him, brought him into the AIA program, let Porter live with him and his family. He became a mentor, one he never planned on being.

“I was a very flaky,” Porter said of that period in his life. “I didn’t keep my promises, always made excuses, pointed my finger at other people, reasons for not doing whatever.”

“I looked at him and his wife, his life, and it was the first time that I had seen a black man in a family situation. My parents split up when I was little, my uncles, everyone. Here I saw a cool black dude who was totally comfortable talking in front of crowds, killing it on the court and most of all loved being with his family. That was everything that I wanted to be. That changed my life.”

“It wasn’t something my wife and I set out to do, but we lived together,” Romar said. “So we would talk about life and philosophies.”

That relationship is why Michael Jr. and Jontay considered Washington before their father became an assistant coach. Romar would have had a shot to land the duo even if Michael Sr. would have turned down the job for the third time.

Michael Sr. would not, however, be in a position to become a Pac-12 assistant coach were it not for his sons athletic ability, and he likely would not have been in a position to become an assistant coach for a women’s team in the SEC had he not had two daughters that could play there.

It’s fair to be critical of him for that.

But you must do it with the understanding that he didn’t pressure his daughters to follow him, and that his biggest concern with taking the gig at Washington was that it would put pressure on Michael Jr. to follow him.

“We had lots of conversations before he took the job,” Lisa said. “‘Is this a place that you could see yourself playing? Does this put too much pressure on you? How do you feel about this?’ We had those conversations over and over again to try to get to really the truth. We had the older siblings talk to the boys and see if they could get deeper with them about how that really resonated.”

“But it was already a place that Michael was really interested in. He just didn’t like how far away it was. So Michael Sr. and our whole family moving there makes that part of it go away.”

So yes, this was a package deal.

But this is also what the Porters do.

They keep it in the family.

Nike Elite Youth Basketball League
Michael Porter Jr., Jon Lopez/Nike

Three Things To Know: Auburn’s rolling, Kentucky’s struggling, Mizzou is tough

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It was a relatively quiet night in college hoops, but there were still three things that were worth discussing.

1. IS AUBURN THE BEST TEAM IN THE SEC?

I’m trying to come up with a reason to argue otherwise, and it’s just not working.

Despite the fact that they lost their three best players from last season’s Final Four team, the Tigers look like they are going to once against have a shot of getting back to the final weekend of the college basketball season.

This year’s group is a little different than last season. They’re not forcing as many turnovers as they did last year, but they are running the floor and they are shooting up a ton of threes and, right now, they are playing with as much swagger and confidence as anyone in the country. Colgate is a solid, veteran mid-major team and they were absolutely mollywhopped by Auburn. The final score was 91-62, but don’t forget that Auburn led 53-21 at halftime. The spread of 16 points. Auburn was covering midway through the first half.

Now, if we’re going to talk about them in terms of being the best anything, it’s important to note that they haven’t really played anyone yet. Colgate and South Alabama are fine. Davidson was, apparently, entirely overrated. Hopefully Auburn will get a showdown with Wisconsin in the final of the Legends Classic, otherwise we may not see them face a tournament team until they host N.C. State.

In other words, expect a lot of wins from Auburn in the month of December.

2. KENTUCKY CERTAINLY ISN’T, NOT RIGHT NOW

We have already spent quite a bit of time on Kentucky in this space. The Wildcats struggled with a mid-major foe in Rupp Arena for the second straight game. They did not lose on Monday night, but they did leave us asking the question: Can Kentucky actually cure what is ailing them this season?

3. MISSOURI IS GOING TO BE A TOUGH OUT ALL SEASON LONG

I’m not sure there is a team that is flying further under the radar than Missouri right now. The Tigers improved to 3-1 on the season with a 75-56 win over Wofford on Monday night. They’ve also beaten Northern Kentucky and took No. 18 Xavier to overtime in Cincinnati.

As of today, they are a top ten team defensively, according to KenPom. They are ninth nationally in defensive effective field goal percentage. They have an assembly line of talented perimeter players that can all get out and pressure while Jeremiah Tilmon has embraced being the defensive anchor for this group while also becoming an efficient catch-and-dunk offensive weapon that can draw fouls.

I’m going to hold off on going all-in on Missouri until we see them in the Hall Of Fame Classic next week (they open with Butler, another sneaky-good team) but at this point, it looks like the Tigers should be a tournament team.

Cassius Winston addresses Michigan State crowd: ‘I lost a piece of my heart’

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Michigan State guard Cassius Winston spoke publicly for the first time since his younger brother died by suicide nine days ago.

He thanked the crowd at the Breslin Center:

Can Kentucky cure what is ailing them?

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For the second straight game against mid-major competition, the Kentucky Wildcats looked like everything but the team that beat No. 1 Michigan State in the season opener.

On Tuesday night, the Wildcats blew a 14-point second half lead and allowed Mark Madsen’s Utah Valley Wolverines to have a couple of shots to take the lead in the final three minutes of what eventually turned into an 82-74 win. This came just six days after the Wildcats, as the No. 1 team in the country, found a way to lose to Evansville, who turned around and lost to SMU at home Tuesday.

So things have been better in Lexington.

Much better.

But panicking over anything would be silly right now.

Because the thing that this Kentucky team needs more than anything else is the only thing that cannot be rushed: Time.


What’s wrong with Kentucky? We broke it down last week.

One of college basketball’s most annoying bits of coachspeak and cliche is the saying, “This will be a different team come March.”

Sometimes it’s accurate. Sometimes it’s a coach or a columnist trying to explain away the dumb mistakes that a team keeps making.

And sometimes, it’s said in regard to this iteration of the Kentucky Wildcats, who will be a completely different team in, what, two weeks? A month? Surely not much more than that. Right now, Kentucky more closely resembles a MASH unit than it does a college basketball. Look at this seemingly ever-growing list of injuries:

  • E.J. Montgomery has missed the last three games with an ankle injury he suffered in the opener against Michigan State.
  • Ashton Hagans has been dealing with some kind of leg injury that John Calipari hasn’t specified but that had limited him early on this season.
  • Nick Richards is still battling an ankle injury that has kept him out of practices.
  • Immanuel Quickley missed the Utah Valley game with what was termed a chest injury.
  • Dontaie Allen is still recovering from a torn ACL.
  • Kahlil Whitney appeared to dislocate a finger with three minutes left before popping it back in himself. He did not return to the game.

Do the math, and the Wildcats finished this game with six scholarship players, two of whom are not at 100 percent.

That’s rough for any team to deal with, especially when three of the opening night starters are on that injured list.

But the issue is magnified for Kentucky.

The Wildcats are not only incredibly young, but they also lack the kind of elite talents we typically associate Big Blue with. There is no surefire lottery pick on this roster. More importantly, there may not be a college All-American on this roster. Tyrese Maxey is the most dangerous scorer they have, but he’s shooting 28 percent from three, has eight assists and nine turnovers in four games and has looked far from the star guard he played like against Michigan State. Ashton Hagans and Nick Richards were terrific on Tuesday, but if they’re the two best players on this team that’s a far cry from Devin Booker and Karl-Anthony Towns, or John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis.

Hell, there isn’t anyone on this roster that is as good as P.J. Washington or Tyler Herro were last season.

At least right now. That’s the important part here.

Because, if you remember, neither P.J. Washington or Tyler Herro were as good in November as they were in February and March. They got better as the season went on, just like the guys on this roster will get better (and healthier) as the season goes on.

So when you put it all together, what you have is a team that we knew was going to need time to gel dealing with injuries to half their roster that is keeping key pieces out of games and, perhaps more importantly, out of practice. Don’t gloss over that. If injuries are keeping these guys from practicing, it’s keeping them from getting better, from learning their roles, from growing into the player they will hopefully be once league play begins. That is in no way insignificant.

Frankly, Maxey going absolutely bonkers in Madison Square Garden while Michigan State paired foul trouble with 5-for-26 shooting from three papered over a lot of these cracks.

We knew Kentucky was going to take their lumps early on these season and we ranked them where we ranked them anyway.

They are taking their lumps.

And if you are patient, they’ll look like Kentucky again soon enough.

No. 9 Kentucky gets another scare, holds off Utah Valley

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ashton Hagans scored a career-high 26 points, and No. 9 Kentucky survived another close game against what should have been a lesser opponent, beating Utah Valley 82-74 on Monday night.

The Wildcats (3-1) dropped out of the No. 1 spot in The Associated Press Top 25 after losing at home to Evansville last week, and they had to overcome a late surge to hold off the Wolverines.

Kentucky led by 16 points early in the second half, but Utah Valley steadily chipped away until T.J. Washington’s 3-pointer got the Wolverines (3-2) within one at 68-67 with 3:26 remaining. Nate Sestina responded with a three-point play that helped the Wildcats pull away.

Kentucky was without second-leading scorer Immanuel Quickley, who sat out because of a chest injury. Quickley has scored 16 points in each of the last two games.

The Wildcats also have been without forward EJ Montgomery, who has missed the past three games because of an ankle injury. Coupled with Quickley’s injury, Kentucky’s roster has dwindled to seven scholarship players, leaving the Wildcats short-handed in practice.

Nick Richards had 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Tyrese Maxey added 14 points.

Washington led the Wolverines with 22 points, followed by Trey Woodbury with 17 and Jamison Overton with 10.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are used to shooting free throws and averaged 29.7 attempts per game in their first three. Kentucky made 31 of 34 from the line against the Wolverines, including 14 of 15 in the first half. The Wildcats held a 46-27 edge in rebounding, including 34 on the defensive end.

Utah Valley: Just as Evansville did in its upset, the Wolverines spread the floor and forced the Wildcats to play defense in the open court. The Wolverines made 11 3-pointers to keep the game close.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wildcats play two more games this week and could move up a spot or two with three victories, although games like this will surely give voters pause. The Wildcats don’t play a ranked opponent again until they take on No. 10 Ohio State at Las Vegas on Dec. 21.

UP NEXT

Utah Valley hosts Lamar on Thursday.

Kentucky hosts Mount St. Mary’s on Friday

Villanova’s Antoine medically cleared for game action

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Freshman guard Bryan Antoine has been medically cleared for game action, Villanova announced on Monday.

Antoine is a former five-star prospect that has missed the first two weeks of the season. He underwent surgery on his shoulder on May 31st.

“Bryan has been fully cleared to play in games and we’re happy for him,” head coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “He’s worked extremely hard in his rehab with Jeff Pierce and John Shackleton to get to this point.

“Our plan is to bring Bryan along slowly. He’s only just returned to practice and the learning curve is steep for any freshman. Bryan’s working hard to catch up and we’re going to do all we can to help him in this transition.”