Mike Bethea has seen the best of Seattle basketball through more than two decades as the coach at Rainier Beach High School, and even more than that dating back to his playing days at Franklin.
So he makes for an ideal candidate to ask the question — who can best compare to Michael Porter Jr.? When is the last time he’s seen a player like Porter?
Bethea’s answer comes from 2002. Not in his beloved Seattle, but from a tournament Rainier Beach played in Trenton, New Jersey.
“There was a young man named LeBron James playing,” Bethea said. “It was him and everybody else.
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“And that’s how it has been with Michael.”
The 6-foot-9 Porter scored 978 points in one unforgettable Nathan Hale season.
Combine that with what he did in three years at Father Tolton Catholic in Columbia, Missouri, before moving to Seattle and he’s scored 3,427 points in his high school career.
For reference, Isiah Brown set the Metro League’s career scoring record with Lakeside last year — finishing with 2,372 points.
Brandon Roy said he’d never seen a player who attracted so much attention in the Tacoma Dome. Not even when Roy was a player, himself, at Garfield, nor in his time as an assistant at Garfield before taking over at Nathan Hale this year.
“I’ve been around for a while,” said Roy, the former UW and Portland Trail Blazers star, after a state semifinal victory against Lincoln. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen.”
Porter averaged 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds per game this season in leading Nathan Hale to a 29-0 season with a 3A state title victory over Garfield. That makes him one of the easier selections there’s been for The News Tribune’s state boys basketball player of the year.
“You could have put him on any team in the state of Washington and it was going to be the same result,” Bethea said of Porter’s state-title season.
He was at Tolton last year when he had 31 points and 19 rebounds in the Class 3 state championship game victory against Barstow, 62-60. It was the school’s first state title.
Nathan Hale had previously won the 1985 boys soccer state title, the 1971 girls track and field title, a 1970 boys gymnastics title and a 1966 boys cross country title before Porter helped cement the Raiders’ boys basketball team as one of the best teams ever in Washington (with the help of six other Nathan Hale implants, including Porter’s two younger brothers, Jontay and Coban).
He had 27 points and 17 rebounds in the championship victory against Garfield, which started two of his future UW teammates.
“It’s crazy,” Porter said after the win. “None of us knew each other before we came to Nathan Hale. We just really jelled. We trusted each other and had each other’s best interests in mind, and that’s what separates us.
“It’s a similar feeling,” Porter said, comparing the title to the one he had with Tolton. “There’s no other feeling like a state championship. But it’s a whole different group of dudes, a new coaching staff and it’s another family.”
As long as Lorenzo Romar is still the coach at UW, Porter will join his father, the Huskies’ first-year assistant, at Washington next year. The Porter family moved to Seattle because Porter Sr. was hired by Romar, who is Porter Jr.’s godfather.
Porter Jr. is the No. 1 2017 recruit in the country for a reason. Just look at what he did in the title game.
Not just for the alley-oop dunk he had been begging P.J. Fuller to throw his way, or the alley-oop to himself late in the fourth quarter that became a fitting ending to Porter’s jaw-dropping season. Porter also hit an NBA-range 3-pointer that swished through the net in the first half and he had three blocks.
One block against Lincoln never even appeared to traject downward after he spiked it over the Abes’ bench like a volleyball player.
“He can do everything, right?” Lincoln coach Aubrey Shelton said afterward. “He can shoot, he can pass he can dribble. He’s so long and athletic. He’s going to be the No. 1 pick in a couple of years. That will be a good story we can tell future guys: ‘Hey, we battled him at the Dome.’ ”
Shelton couldn’t think of another player as dominant.
“If he’s not the best, he’s right up there,” he said.
A sea of kids waited outside Nathan Hale’s locker room after the Lincoln game and Porter obliged some of them by posing for pictures and signing autographs — from one kid, himself, to others.
The attention that comes with his talent could be overwhelming for high school kids. Especially in a place so foreign to Porter, coming to Seattle from Columbia.
But he appears to handle it all with grace and humility, even as he was hounded by fans on the court following the title victory.
“I know this isn’t me,” Porter said. “I didn’t ask to be 6-9. It’s from God. He’s given me a lot and I’m just trying to give it back to Him. That’s what keeps me humble.
“I’m just a regular person. I try not to act like I’m better than anybody else. If people want pictures, I try to take pictures. I just try to stay humble and give the glory to God.”
Fuller transferred to Nathan Hale from Garfield before the season, playing alongside Porter for the first time.
“I’ve asked him, ‘Do you know what you’re doing? Do you know that you’re going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft one day?’ ” Fuller said after the title game. “But he’s so humble. He doesn’t really take it in.
“He’s a freak athlete. I feel like if he went to the NBA right now he would not be guarded by a lot of people. Nobody could guard him in high school. He’s definitely the best player in the country.”
Bethea takes a lot of pride boasting about Seattle’s rich basketball history. He grew up watching players like Garfield’s Keith Harrell and O’Dea’s Clint Richardson. He’s coached Nate Robinson, Terrence Williams, Dejounte Murray and Jamal Crawford.
He’s watched other Seattle stars — Roy at Garfield, Franklin’s Jason Terry and Aaron Brooks or when Seattle Prep had a pair of NBA lottery picks on the same team — Martell Webster and Spencer Hawes.
He’s also admired some of the other state greats — Federal Way’s Michael Dickerson, Kentwood’s Rodney Stuckey, Bremerton’s Marvin Williams, Blaine’s Luke Ridnour, Snohomish’s Jon Brockman or when Isaiah Thomas averaged 32.8 points as a junior at Curtis.
But the last time he’s been wowed like he has with Porter — it was watching St. Vincent-St. Mary’s LeBron James score 36 points against Carmelo Anthony’s Oak Hill Academy at the Prime Time Shootout in New Jersey.
“I saw LeBron play as a high school player and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It was like me going to play with my six-year-old grandkids on an eight-foot hoop,” Bethea said. “I try not to take away from any of the great players who have come through here or disrespect the guys from different eras, but Michael is most definitely the greatest of this era from this area.
“My kid, Jamal Crawford, changed high school basketball in the state of Washington. But anybody who says Michael isn’t one of the best they’ve ever seen — man, they need to get their head examined. Or quit commenting on basketball.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
TNT ALL-STATE BOYS BASKETBALL
Player of the year: Michael Porter Jr., Nathan Hale, sr.
Coach of the year: Keffrey Fazio, West Seattle.
G Jaylen Nowell, 6-5, Garfield, sr. — Smooth-shooting UW signee is a two-time first-team TNT all-state selection.
20.5 points, 3.3 assists
G Nate Pryor, 6-1, West Seattle, sr. – Seattle University signee led Wildcats to third state appearance in school history.
18.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists
F Roberto Gittens, 6-5, Foss, sr. – Boise State commit was leader of Falcons’ first state-title team since 2000.
21.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists
F Kevin Porter Jr., 6-5, Rainier Beach, jr. – Athletic lefty can play any position for Vikings. Will be sought-after 2018 recruit.
24 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists
F Michael Porter Jr., 6-9, Nathan Hale, sr. – UW signee scored nearly 1,000 points in one season for the 29-0 Raiders.
34.8 points, 13.8 rebounds
G Trevante Anderson, 6-2, Lincoln, jr.
F Cameron Cranston, 6-6, Union, sr.
G Daejon Davis, 6-4, Garfield, sr.
F Corey Kispert, 6-6, King’s, sr.
F Jontay Porter, 6-9, Nathan Hale, jr.
TJ Cotterill: firstname.lastname@example.org