Michael Porter Jr. on Wednesday was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, a formal honor that barely describes his obvious status as the greatest talent ever to grace a basketball floor.
The Gatorade award would have been a dream come true for most 18-year-olds, but for the senior at Nathan Hale High School — America’s No. 1 high school team — it reinforced why the University of Washington isn’t worthy of his transcendent skills.
While Porter was accepting the trophy, new Huskies basketball coach Mike Hopkins talked about the challenge of retaining the stellar recruiting class Lorenzo Romar kinda, sorta left him. During his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon, Hopkins acknowledged that he’s had serious discussions with some UW commits not named Michael Porter Jr.
Hopkins was asked why he hadn’t yet made contact with Porter, the Gatorade National Player of the Year and greatest talent ever to grace a basketball floor.
“It’s been like a lightning flash that’s been happening so fast,” the former Syracuse assistant said of his relocation from central New York to the Pacific Northwest. “Getting our family here, trying to find a place to live for the children. …
“We’ve reached out to a lot of people, but it’s hard, because each phone call is about 45 or 50 minutes. We’re definitely going to be sitting down with the Porter family very soon, even today.”
I’m not sure how that encounter went, or if there was an actual encounter. What I do know is that on Thursday, Washington athletic director Jen Cohen granted Porter’s request to renounce his letter of intent.
Given how his father was not invited to return for a second season as a UW assistant, the odds were long that Porter would stay. Still, he had to figure Hopkins would show more urgency about keeping the greatest talent ever to grace a basketball floor in Seattle.
A gift basket and bouquet were out of the question — a violation of NCAA rules — but what about the coach appearing at Porter’s front door surrounded by the Huskies’ marching band? And would it have been a sin for Hopkins to genuflect upon shaking hands with the rare prodigy, then putting him into a makeshift throne for a ceremonial washing of his feet?
There were plenty of ways for Hopkins to reassure Porter that he’s Number One, Top of the Heap, Best of the Best.
“It is my honor to stand in your glorious and majestic presence,” Hopkins could have said. “I worked 22 years at a college basketball powerhouse, seen a lot of superstars in my life and time, but never have I been so privileged to meet the most gifted of them all.”
Hopkins took a more detached approach. It seems he believes that high school prospects who are all-in pose a sturdier foundation for a program in flux than prospects who look at college as a brief, obligatory diversion — seven months of basketball boot camp before the stakes get real.
“We’re going to do our best job at keeping these guys intact,” Hopkins said Wednesday of the Huskies’ truncated recruiting class. “But I’ll tell you one thing: We want people that want to be here. We want people that have two feet in, in terms of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to build. That’s the important thing.”
Finding people who want to be at Washington is so important to Hopkins, he had no apparent misgivings about parting ways with a rangy, agile, 6-foot-9 athlete who profiled as an ideal centerpiece for a zone defense.
Unlike his Syracuse mentor Jim Boeheim, Hopkins isn’t philosophically tethered to the zone. But he’ll implement it on a situational basis, and Porter, who averaged 3.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game this season, defines everything a coach craves in the zone concept.
Well, almost everything. The UW commitment was lukewarm, entirely steeped in his father’s friendship with Romar. For that matter, Porter’s affiliation with Nathan Hale was lukewarm. He averaged 36.2 points on those 29 occasions the Raiders played a basketball game. The rest of the time, the home-schooled Porter was isolated from classmates.
Kid arrives from out of town, a senior with no friends at the cafeteria lunch table. So the easy solution, of course, is to ensure he never sits at the cafeteria table.
Porter enjoyed such phenomenal success during his single season in Seattle, he had to be peeved that the Huskies’ new coach didn’t bow down to him 15 minutes after the new coach arrived.
What was the new coach thinking?
He was thinking like this: “There’s no science in recruiting,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “You’ve got to get the right fit. Values have to align.”
Happy trails, Michael. You’re the best basketball player in the history of the world, a genuine miracle-worker. But when a marching band didn’t appear at your front door, and the coach didn’t genuflect to you on the porch, you realized the University of Washington was ready to move on.
Hang in there, Anointed One. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath