Star freshman set to make an instant impact
Michael Porter Jr. enters college basketball already pegged as the next star. He was slated to attend Washington but ended up going back home to Missouri, where he grew up.
The 6'10", 215-pound, versatile forward explains how he wound up at Missouri, his relationship with Tigers coach Cuonzo Martin, his basketball-crazed family and both the team and individual goals for this season.
What was the situation like for you as you made the decision to sign with Missouri after being ready to play at Washington?
My dad was on the Washington staff and Washington fired Coach [Lorenzo] Romar, so my dad was offered to stay there. But without Coach Romar, he wasn’t too intrigued by the offer, so he opened his options before he decided on Missouri. He announced it, well he announced it before me, but he wasn’t going to come coach here unless I was there, so really when he announced the coaching job I had already decided I was going, and it seemed like it would be cool to come home to Missouri.
What’s the history with you and Missouri?
I grew up in Indianapolis until the fifth grade. At that time my dad was coaching my AAU team, my aunt was coaching Illinois State and was offered a job to be the Mizzou women’s basketball coach. Her staff all decided to do their own thing, so she needed a new staff, and she knew my dad was a coach for my AAU team. She offered him a job, and I moved out to Columbia. I lived there until I moved out to Seattle for my senior year of high school last year after my dad took the job as an assistant at Washington.
What was it like being away for a year and coming back to Missouri?
It’s been a blessing. It feels like I’m coming home because I already know a lot of people in this town and the program. It was really easy for me to come home and be comfortable right away.
Before you committed, what had you heard about Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin?
To be honest, I had never even heard of him until I committed here. And then he took the Missouri job, and before my dad took the job, we both talked to him and we got a good feel for him and we both heard good things about him.
What’s the most apt comparison to an NBA player that you have heard about yourself?
The way my game is right now, I don’t feel like it is comparable to an NBA player, but maybe a close resemblance. I would just say like KD [Kevin Durant], Rudy Gay, Paul George or old school T-Mac [Tracy McGrady].
You have a large, athletic basketball family. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
I have two older sisters and they both played at Missouri. My oldest sister, Bri, is done now because she tore her ACL five times and came back from all of them. Three on one, two on the other. On the fourth, she came back and was playing and then tore it again. I would say, if she had not hurt her knees, she would have been the best athlete in the family probably by far. In the seventh grade, she was 6'2" and was dunking a tennis ball easy. She could have been one of the best woman players to ever play. Then Cierra — she’s really good and is still playing at Missouri. Then there is me, and then Jontay, and then Coban; he’s 6'3" and 16 and still waiting to hit that growth spurt. He’s a little more stocky-built. The next is Jevon, he is 6'4" and is only 13 or 14. He is probably going to be around 7'1". He’s way longer and taller than I was at that age and he’s coming so fast. He’s going to be a superstar. Izaak, he’s 12 and he’s about 5'7". I don’t know if he wants to play video games or play basketball. It hasn’t really clicked for him yet. He still plays like a little kid. And then Jayda is the last one. She’s probably going to end up around 6'6" since she’s already way taller than any of the girls in her grade, so she might be real good at basketball too.
Where would you have played if your dad weren’t a coach?
If my dad was not a coach, I would not have come back to Missouri, mostly because I had not developed a huge relationship with Cuonzo yet. I think I would have gone to Oklahoma to play with Trae Young.
As the season gets closer you’re going to hear this a lot: Ben Simmons goes to LSU and doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament, Markelle Fultz goes to Washington and doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Two straight No. 1 one picks don’t make the tournament. Why will you be able to end the streak and lead Missouri to the NCAA Tournament?
Of course I plan on doing really well and making the tournament. I just want to every day come in with the guys and change the culture. You know a lot of years these guys haven’t won a ton of games, so we’re really looking to change the culture with the guys coming in and the guys coming back. The guys coming in haven’t really lost a lot of games, so we’re trying to come in and help lead — even though we’re younger guys I think we have a good chance with the guys coming back and the new freshmen to really be a really good team and surprise a lot of people.
The knock on you a couple years ago was toughness. How do you feel you have grown in that area?
Well, I always knew I wasn’t a soft kid and I was never scared to play anybody, but sometimes people saw my motor and saw I was laid back and wasn’t super high intensity and questioned my toughness. I just think as I have grown older and really learned, I am really able to give it my all and no matter the matchup just come out. I don’t really fear anybody, so I think that’s starting to show more as I get older.
Is there a game you are looking forward to this season?
I am really looking forward to going against Kentucky.
Just because there are so many players on that team that I know and I am cool with, and we both have been talking about that game. You know, me and Kevin Knox are real close. He could have come to Missouri, but he chose Kentucky, so it will be kind of a rivalry game. It’s just going to be a fun game with everyone joking about going off and stuff like that.
Who is your favorite NBA player?
Steph Curry. I’m real close with him, and right after that it goes KD.
What’s the best advice you have gotten from those guys?
That I have one more year to make my dreams come true, so don’t be doing anything stupid. Really take my game to the next level.
Who is the best player
you ever played against?
Jamal Crawford. I mean one-on-one, he didn’t win, but he’s really good. We just played three-dribbles, and it was hard for him to get a shot off. I played Steph (Curry), and he is the best player I have played against, but against me, he was not the best player I played against.
Did you beat Steph?
Yeah, I beat him.
So you’re beating
Yeah, the best player my age I have played against? I have to go with [Duke freshman] Gary Trent, just because the one game at Peach Jam, the Friday night game, I could get any shot I wanted but they weren’t falling, and he scored 38, I believe. And he played very well that game, although we ended up winning. That was probably the best performance a player has had against me.
What do you do off the court?
I’m really a calm dude. I don’t need to do much to be OK, playing video games, hanging out with friends, hanging with my family, going fishing — the ponds here have catfish. I go for a few hours. My brothers love it, so when they go I tag along.
What do you think of the one-and-done rule?
I think if you’re ready to be a pro, then be a pro. I don’t see why people would try to make you go to college one year, because that year you are not going pro, you are not getting a whole lot of school work done, you’re still not getting a degree, so you can’t chase your dream. I think a good rule would be if you are ready for the NBA out of high school, go then, but if you go to college, you have to stay for two years.
What music do you listen to?
I like Christian rap, and typical rap — Drake, Gucci, Future. But I like listening to a lot of old-school rap, and R&B.
How do you stop Michael Porter?
I haven’t really found anyone that can guard me. If I had to defend myself, I would probably put a strong, fast 6'5" guy on me, but I would probably shoot right over them. Most guys my size I run around, and guys shorter than me I shoot over.
What makes you ready for the pressure you will face this year?
I like big moments and I like challenging myself. I am excited for the opportunity ahead and that my game is on point. I’m looking forward to it.