COLUMBIA – Michael Porter Jr.’s face is stone.
The Tolton freshman’s rangy 6-foot-5-inch frame rises off the bench and saunters onto the hardwood as his name is called over the loudspeakers during starting lineups at Jamestown High School last week.
Porter’s face stays the same two minutes later when he effortlessly rises high above the rim and throws down a two-handed slam dunk for Fr. Tolton Catholic High School's first points of the game.
He trots down the court with a confident swagger.
The Jamestown crowd is silent. Porter is in the zone.
The morning after scoring 27 points, one point under his season average, and leading Tolton to its 10th win of the season, Porter steps out of his mother's white Ford Flex and makes his way into school. Just like all of the other high school kids.
But Porter isn’t just like all the other high school kids.
At 15 years old, Porter is already receiving national attention for his basketball skills. He has been named a top 15 recruit for his class by several sites, received invitations from Kevin Durant and Chris Paul to their invitation-only workout camps and been dubbed the top prospect out of an elite 125 camp by ESPN.com.
“He’s been projected as a first-round (NBA) draft pick, team USA, the whole deal,” Tolton boys basketball coach Tyler Clark said.
That’s a lot of success and recognition for someone who has yet to acquire a driver’s license.
Success, when handled the wrong way, can become a burden. But Porter hasn’t let the success derail him.
Porter was home-schooled until the seventh grade. He attended Jefferson Middle School for one year before moving to Tolton. Porter and his family’s choice of Tolton over Rock Bridge, where he has two sisters committed to playing basketball at Missouri, was a surprising one.
It’s an odd pair: the highest-ranked recruit to ever come out of Columbia and a school that has only had a varsity basketball team for two years.
“We have key values that are the fabric of our school, and that’s attractive to people,” Clark said. “So I’m not surprised that talented people want to be a part of our school.”
Basketball, apparently, was not Porter's chief motivator.
“Most people don’t know that I believe in God and that I came to this school not for basketball but to grow closer to God,” Porter said. “Some people think it’s just for basketball, but the main decision was just so I can grow in my faith.”
Porter said that his faith keeps him humble and makes him work harder.
That’s how Porter is. He’s quiet and respectful. He looks you in the eye when he speaks, presenting humility that is rarely found in 15-year-olds.
Tolton has been a good fit for Porter, but it hasn’t been easy. His father, Michael Porter Sr., said his son's most difficult transition since beginning high school took place off of the court.
“You know, he’s been home-schooled up until a couple of years ago," Porter Sr. said. "They really get after it academically at Tolton. The balance of athletics, basketball and academics has been a real eye opener for him.”
It isn't necessarily as convenient now that his class schedule is more rigid.
“He was home-schooled for years, so when science was over and they wanted to go shoot for an hour, they could,” Clark said.
It has been a challenge, Porter said. But it is one that, so far, he has overcome. Clark said he is most proud of Porter for what he has done off of the floor.
"He leads our team in GPA. He's a 4.0 student," Clark said.
Porter said sometimes it is hard for him to stay focused in the classroom. He’d rather be in the gym working on his game. But he keeps an academics-first mentality to help himself stay on top of his school work.
“I know that to get accepted to the best colleges, you have to have a good grade point average,” Porter said. “You never know how long you’ll be able to play basketball. School is a big part of my future because I’m not going to play basketball forever.”
Porter doesn’t see school as something he has to do in order to play basketball, but something he gets to do.
“He’s extremely competitive,” Clark said. "And that translates in grades, too."
“It ticks you off if someone gets a better grade than you,” Clark joked to Porter with a light punch on the shoulder during practice last week. Porter smiled and nodded in agreement.
On Sunday, Porter was honored with an all-academic award at the MFA Oil - Break Time Shootout for having the highest GPA on his team.
His competitiveness shows when he plays basketball. And just as he leads his team in grades, he leads them on the court. Despite being the youngest player on the court in many instances, he has the ability to take over a game.
Being 6-foot-5-inches plays a part in that. But Porter Sr. said his son’s relentless work ethic and dedication to the fundamentals are the key factors.
“He understands how hard he has worked to get to where he is," Porter Sr. said. "And now that he's been to some of these high level camps, he sees that there's a ton of kids like him. And so he’s come to the realization that he’s got to keep his foot on the gas pedal in terms of his work ethic if he wants to be recognized like that.”
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