HAMPTON, Va. – Michael Porter Jr. is reluctant to say that he expected it.
Prepared for it? Sure.
Expected? Eh, just sounds too much like he’s starting to buy in to his own hype.
“And that’s just not me,” Porter said. “I’m only prepared for all of this because it’s been a dream of mine for years. Even now it’s hard to tell if it’s real.”
Precisely why it’s easy to see how Porter missed the handful of spectators engaging in the “that’s him” points and nudges as he walked to Court 4 at the Boo Williams Sportsplex Friday night for his first game in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League.
Porter missed the small group of players huddled courtside watching his every move while he warmed up with his Mokan Elite (Mo.) teammates, and he was utterly oblivious to the fact that Kentucky coach John Calipari straddled the curtain separating Court’s 3 and 4 so he could watch Porter and St. Louis Eagles forward Jayson Tatum, his top target for 2016, simultaneously.
“I guess I’m just new to it all,” Porter said with a laugh. “I’ve only been getting attention since last year… But not like this.”
He’s already picked up so many offers that, try as he may, for the life of him he just can’t name them all.
“Kansas, Mizzou, Washington, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Iowa, Indiana, Wichita State,” said Porter, who scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead Mokan past BABC (Mass.) Friday night. “Um… Man, that’s hard. I already see that recruiting can be a lot, but my dad helps with that. He’s been through all that before.”
Michael Sr. played at New Orleans from 1985-89 and now serves as an assistant coach for Missouri’s women’s basketball team.
But don’t expect Michael Sr. to put on the full-court recruiting press.
“Never have I said to him, ‘Dude you’ve gotta go to Missouri,’” Michael Sr. said. “And I’m not gonna say that. We’ll come up with a list of schools he’s interested in, take visits and go through the process. I told him the attention from coaches is just starting.”
Porter, a sophomore, warrants the star treatment.
At 6-foot-9, he’s the type of player who doesn’t fit into any one box.
He can handle the ball like a guard, thread the needle on his passes, get into the lane at will, defend point guards and centers with the same set of clamps and his perimeter stroke? Marksman-like.
This past season, Porter, who is ranked No. 2 overall in the ESPN 25, averaged 28 points a game for Father Tolton (Columbia, Mo.), which finished 27-3.
Plus, he turned in, arguably, the highlight of the year back in December when he literally jumped so high on a poster dunk that he took steps up the defender’s chest before throwing it down.
That little gem, which has amassed more than 18.2 million views, earned him the top spot on Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays.
“He’s got all the tools,” Michael Sr. “But one thing I always tell him is that you’re never as good as they say you are, and when it turns, and it will turn, just know that you’re never as bad as they say you are either. The good part is I’ve never had to worry about him being hungry out there.”
Could be because Porter is the third oldest of eight kids and the oldest boy, making competitiveness the standard in the Porter house. Could be because he’s just a year removed from being “that” guy who’d nudge his teammates to alert them that the top player had entered the gym. Then again, it could be that Shavon Shields story Porter’s coach Rodney Perry told him about.
Three years ago it was tough for any player in the 2012 class to claim more clout than Shabazz Muhammad, a 6-foot-7, brute wing from Las Vegas with a propensity to bully his way to the basket for ferocious dunks almost as frequently as he knocked down NBA threes.
That year, Shields, also a 6-foot-7 wing, won a matchup against Muhammad, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, in an AAU game and picked up a handful of Division I offers the next day.
This past season, Shields averaged 15.4 points and six rebounds a game at Nebraska.
“Because of where Michael is right now people are gonna be looking to make a name for themselves using him the same way Shavon used Shabazz,” Perry said. “Michael gets it. My constant message is that there’s no pressure on him at all. Just do what you do. He’s not a guy that you have to worry about motivating.”
Porter has that handled.
He’s got a list of “about 10 players” that he’s drooling to matchup against this AAU season to accomplish his ultimate goal.
“I want to be thought of as the best,” Porter said. “Not the best in my class; the best in any class. At first I was chasing the top dogs, now people are chasing me. The thing about me is I don’t look at myself as a top dog so I’m always chasing. It’s hard to get to the level where people see you as a top player; it’s even harder to stay there. But I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY