It took four months for the Nathan Hale Raiders to achieve a 29-0 record and a 3A state championship, which they won on Saturday by defeating Garfield 68-51, but the meaning of what they and star player Michael Porter Jr. accomplished will be felt for years to come.
Nathan Hale head coach Brandon Roy was a part of many great teams as a player at Garfield, but none of those teams won a state championship. Roy got his state championship and in the process his team became arguably the best single-season team in state history.
“I think I played on about two of those teams when I was in high school, but because we didn’t win the state championship, nobody ever put us in that category,” Roy said. “I played with a lot of really good teams in high school, one through 11, but because we didn’t win the state championship we didn’t get remembered, so I told the guys, ‘You’ve got to put the stamp on it at the end of the year.’
“We love to be in argument of who is the best team ever (in the state). We’re happy to be a part of it. Michael is in the argument of the best player ever (in the state). That’s something that people will (talk about) forever. I do it when I’m with my buddies, and I’m sure everybody will.”
Despite coming into the game as heavy favorites having beat the Bulldogs all three times they had played them this season, the Raiders trailed by three points at halftime. In the locker room during the break, Porter Jr., and some of Nathan Hale’s role players, addressed the team. The Raiders responded in the second half by outscoring the Bulldogs, 23-11, in the third period.
“I knew it was go time,” Porter Jr. said. “It was go hard or go home. We were down at half, and I just knew it was now or never. We needed to punch them in the mouth, and that’s exactly what we did, so I’m proud of the team.”
Porter Jr. finished the game with 27 points and 17 rebounds. Like he has so many other times this season, Porter Jr. carried his team when it needed it most.
“He’s a freak athlete,” PJ Fuller said. “I feel like if he went to the NBA right now, he would not be guarded by a lot of people. Nobody in high school can guard him. He’s definitely the best player in the country.”
Porter averaged 30 points per game in three state tournament games. His 90 total points broke the record for points in a tournament set by Lincoln’s Ahmaad Rorie in 2013. Porter also set the tournament record for rebounds with 45, breaking the record of 42 set by O’Dea’s Jacob Lampkin in 2014. In one season in Washington state after transferring from Missouri, Porter averaged nearly 40 points per game, never lost and won a state championship.
“It’s crazy man,” Porter Jr. said. “Doing it with this group of guys. I never thought we’d become brothers like this. The coaching staff really took me in. This is our first year playing together, but I couldn’t do it with another group of guys. I’m so proud of them. This is like a family to me.”
Porter Jr. added that Roy played a big role in helping the team come together so quickly.
“Brandon, that’s an amazing dude,” Porter Jr. said. “I can’t say enough about Brandon. It’s just crazy. Every day in practice we were getting better, but he was always talking about how we had to stick together.
“Having him as a coach is a huge blessing.”
Porter Jr., who is ranked as the top recruit in the country by ESPN 100, will continue his basketball career at the University of Washington in the fall. His status has brought big crowds and autograph-seeking fans to almost every game Nathan Hale has played this season, but Porter Jr. has taken it all in stride.
“I’m just a regular person,” he said. “I try not to act like I’m better than anyone else. People want pictures (with me), I try to take pictures. I just try to stay humble and give the glory to God.”
The Raiders closed the game on an 8-0 run capped off by Porter Jr.’s alley-oop to himself off the backboard for a dunk that brought the biggest cheers of the night from the packed Tacoma Dome crowd.
“It was the last play of the game for me,” Porter Jr. said. “I just wanted to put an exclamation on a perfect season for us. It was a great moment.”
Fuller, who was named first-team all-tournament, finished with 12 points and four assists in the championship game. It was Fuller’s first year at Nathan Hale after transferring from Garfield, and the guard took pride in beating his former team.
“I really enjoyed that,” Fuller said. “I still have a lot of love for those guys. It’s no disrespect to them, it’s all love. We just competed.
“It feels good to play against some friends and brothers and just come out with a win and beat them, especially on this platform for a state championship.”
NO. 1 NATHAN HALE
NO. 2 GARFIELD
Nathan Hale: Michael Porter Jr. 27, PJ Fuller 12, Jontay Porter 10, Tre’var Holland 10, Keegan Crosby 9.
Garfield: Jamon Kemp 12, Daejon Davis 4, Edward Turner 5, Jaylen Nowell 7, Curtis Walker 8, J’Raan Brooks 15.