“I”m coming home!”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dave Matter

COLUMBIA, MO. • Michael Porter Jr. is coming home.

Home is Columbia, Mo.

Home will be the University of Missouri, at least for a year.

Home will soon be Mizzou Arena, the place where as a child Porter endlessly dribbled a basketball and took countless shots as his legend grew in Boone County, from a 6-foot-4 junior high wunderkind to a 6-9 NBA lottery pick-in-waiting.

After the worst three-year stretch in the history of Missouri’s basketball program, the No. 1 high school player in the country committed to join a team in desperate need of impact players to reignite the fan base. Cuonzo Martin’s team is getting the best one available in the 2017 recruiting class, a player so widely vaunted for his unique blend of size and talent some believe Porter would be the first selection in this summer’s NBA draft if he were eligible.

Instead, the small forward will spend at least one college season in a Mizzou uniform. Porter, a McDonald’s All-American and multiple winner of national player of the year awards, made the decision public Friday with a tweet, a photo featuring Porter in a Mizzou uniform with the words “I’M COMING HOME” in the background. Once pledged to play for the University of Washington, Porter changed plans last week when Washington fired longtime coach Lorenzo Romar, his godfather.

“Last week everything changed for me regarding my college basketball decision,” Porter posted on social media. “Realizing I would no longer have the opportunity to play for Coach Romar, I’ve taken the past seven days to give great consideration to my future. After a lot of thought, prayer, and talking with my family, I’m excited to announce that next year I will be attending the University of Missouri! I am looking forward to the year ahead with Coach Cuonzo and my new teammates. Together we hope to restore the atmosphere at Mizzou Arena. MIZZOU NATION I’M COMING HOME!!!”

On Thursday, Michael Porter Sr., the player’s father, told the Post-Dispatch he had agreed in principle to join Martin’s MU staff as an assistant coach. A day later, the next Porter domino fell in Mizzou’s favor. It will be the first time Mizzou has signed the nation’s top-ranked player in the modern age of recruiting rankings.

Missouri’s 2017-18 roster will be in flux until Martin is done recruiting, but Porter should give MU a dynamic perimeter scorer the day he walks on campus.

“He’s definitely ready to step right in and be a major contributor at that level,” said Jeremy Osborne, Porter’s former coach at Columbia’s Father Tolton Catholic High School. “His athletic and skill set will go a long way. One of the main things people have talked about is his frame. He’s put a little weight on, but he’s a lot stronger than he looks. He’s wiry strong and it’s going to bode well for him in the SEC.”

Porter’s circuitous path to Missouri started in 2010 when his family moved from Indiana to Columbia and his father took a position on the Mizzou women’s basketball staff under coach Robin Pingeton, his sister-in-law. By the time Porter enrolled at Tolton, he’d already started to generate a national buzz on the summer traveling circuit as one of the premier college prospects for the 2017 class. Last year, Porter and his younger brother Jontay led Tolton to the Class 3 state championship. In the summer, they moved to Seattle with their parents when Porter Sr. became an assistant at Washington under Romar, a close family friend.

Last May, Porter trimmed his college choices to five schools: Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Washington. In the fall, to no surprise, Porter picked Washington and signed a national letter of intent to play for Romar’s Huskies.

The Porter children were homeschooled while Michael and Jontay, who’s committed to Washington in 2018, played for Nathan Hale High School. Earlier this month, the Porters led Nathan Hale to a Class 3 state championship in Washington with a 29-0 season.

As the Porters thrived in Seattle, their future college team cratered in Romar’s 15th season. The Huskies lost their final 13 games and finished just 9-22.

For newly hired Martin and Mizzou fans starved for a return to relevant basketball, the timing could not have been better.

The same day Missouri hired Martin to replace Kim Anderson, Washington fired Romar and his staff. Almost immediately, Jontay announced he would consider other schools. After the Huskies hired Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins to replace Romar, Michael requested UW release him from his national letter of intent.

In his only season in Seattle, Porter led Nathan Hale to the No. 1 ranking in USA Today’s Super 25 and averaged 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3.2 steals and 2.7 blocks per game. He’s the third player with roots in the state of Missouri to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award since 2011, following St. Louis natives and former Chaminade stars Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum, the winners in 2011 and 2016. Each of the previous six winners played only the one required year of college basketball before entering the NBA draft: Florida’s Beal, Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Louisiana State’s Ben Simmons and Duke’s Tatum, who announced March 22 that he’ll enter this summer’s draft. The NBA established the current draft eligibility rules with the 2005 collective bargaining agreement effective since the 2006 draft, requiring draft entrants to be one year removed from the graduation of its high school class.

Other highly rated prospects have come to Mizzou expected to lift the program to new heights, but none with Porter’s combination of unparalleled credentials and local roots. Can those wiry shoulders handle the burden of local superstardom?

“Mike’s a different beast, man. He thrives in situations like that,” Osborne said. “As hard as critics can be on kids, nobody’s going to be harder on Mike than himself. He’s very adept at blocking out outside noise and having a singular focus. He plays with a certain passion and competitiveness that everyone in this area is going to appreciate.”

ESPN commentators discuss the impact of Michael Porter, Jr. on Mizzou and the SEC. Impact of Michael Porter on SEC

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