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The Nation’s No. 1 Recruit May Be on the Move

But first, a small but incredibly important logistical matter: Did Michael Porter Jr. sign an NLI?

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

This piece was updated after publication.

Put your pencils down and look up from your bracket, which will inevitably be busted in less than 24 hours. It’s time to look forward to the 2018 season, because the no. 1 recruit in the country may be headed to a university near you*.

*Valid only if you live in Columbia, Missouri.

Before the college basketball extravaganza begins on Thursday and Friday, changes at both Washington and California prematurely opened the coaching carousel for business. The Huskies struggled all season long, racking up just nine wins all year, and Cal, meanwhile, scored just 19 points in the first half of its loss to Cal State Bakersfield in the first round of the NIT. Neither team is in the NCAA tournament, but they’re both contributing to the madness.

Early Wednesday, known towel-wringer Cuonzo Martin resigned from his position in Berkeley and reportedly took a seven-year contract to be the head coach at Missouri. Over in the Pacific Northwest, Washington fired 15-year coach Lorenzo Romar after a 9–22 season.

By dismissing Romar, Washington may lose more than a well-respected coach. The decision may decimate the Huskies’ 2017 recruiting class, with the nation’s no. 1 prospect, Michael Porter Jr., looking likely to decommit. Romar recruited Porter Jr. to Washington in part because Romar and Porter’s father, Michael Porter Sr., go way back. Like 1990s back. The senior Porter became an assistant coach under Romar before this season, waiting for his son to stop dunking on kids half his size at Nathan Hale High School, come play for UW for a year, and then leave for the NBA. Except now, that perfect plan is in shambles.

If you had been waiting for the plot twist, here it is: Reports are that Cuonzo Martin is set to bring Porter Sr. in as an assistant coach to Missouri. I’d imagine you don’t bring him in unless you think he’s bringing his son along with him.

But there’s a second plot twist: Porter may have already signed his national letter of intent, a contract that essentially binds him to Washington for at least one season. The Huskies say Porter signed in June of last year, but Paul Biancardi’s tweet would suggest that he has not yet officially put ink to paper, or finger to … touchpad? Whatever it is that you do these days.

(Update: While the school maintains that Porter signed his letter, Washington’s AD says it will allow Porter and any other recruits from the incoming class to opt out of their NLIs. There is a small caveat, however: The players have to meet with their new head coach before deciding to leave. Good on you, Huskies.)

If Porter did indeed sign his NLI for Washington, by NCAA rule, he must sit out a year before he plays for another school. This feels like a good time to remind all student-athletes to never sign an NLI. If Porter did not sign his letter, he would be free to decommit from Washington and join his dad and Martin in Columbia. And get this: Porter is a package deal with his brother Jontay, who is committed to UW and, unsurprisingly, quite good, too. He did not sign an NLI and will be free to transfer. (LaVar Ball probably thinks his Ball boys would blow out the Porter boys.)

But if Porter did sign, we may never see him play college ball. He could follow his dad and transfer to Mizzou, sit out a year, spending it working out before leaving for the NBA, where he could be the no. 4 pick in the 2018 draft, according to DraftExpress’s current projections. If he’s feeling adventurous, Porter could go international and play for a year while earning money.

Martin is known as a transient — he’s coached at three schools for three years apiece before leaving each one of them. His coaching may not be up to par with the likes of Coach K, Bill Self, and Tom Izzo, but at Cal, he nabbed hot recruits including Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown. Getting the Porter clan would be another coup, and the thought of it is already making Missouri fans jump with joy.

Aside from the feelings of those who cheer for the Tigers, the fallout from this could be ugly. Washington will be without its longtime coach, and could lose its top recruit and possibly more for next season. Who will get them out of this mess? Not Brandon Roy. The real victim in this, though, may be Porter, who was set to play for Romar in Washington before all hell broke loose.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of him: Welcome to the Porter era. We apologize for how it’s starting, but you won’t regret acquainting yourself with the guy they call, “Baby KD.”

This article was updated after publication to reflect the Washington athletic director’s comments about allowing recruits to get out of signed NLIs.