Can Michael Porter Jr. Save Lorenzo Romar’s Job at Washington?Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 18th, 2017
On Monday in a gym in western Massachusetts nearly 3,000 miles east of Seattle, Nathan Hale High School (WA) forward Michael Porter, Jr. lit up an Oak Hill Academy team littered with Division I talent to the tune of 37 points, five rebounds and four assists. Back in the Emerald City, Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar is in danger of losing his job. The Huskies are drowning in a sea of defensive lapses and wasted offensive possessions, all the while squandering the services of arguably the best player in college basketball, Markelle Fultz. Over the last 15 years, Romar has banked significant good will as the most successful head coach in program history. But as the Huskies have churned out legitimate NBA talent over the past five seasons without any real NCAA Tournament success to show for it, even his staunchest defenders have begun to come around. And yet, the only person that seems to stand between Romar and a near-certain axing is the 18 year-old Porter.
The prep superstar is a lot of things. He is the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2017 and a likely NBA lottery pick in 2018. He is also Romar’s godson and the crown jewel of Washington’s next recruiting class. His father, Michael Porter, Sr., is currently an assistant coach there, and his younger brother, Jontay Porter, is a top 40 recruit in the Class of 2018 who may reclassify to join his sibling in Seattle as soon as next season. Fans and administrators alike are well aware of the significant athletic gifts of the Porter brothers, but they are also well aware that the Porter brothers are only committed to Washington for as long as Romar and their father remain employed by the university.
This conundrum could have remained in relative obscurity until after the conclusion of this season, but Porter’s performance in front of a national audience brought it into the open. Is it worth one more year of potentially agonizing underachievement to ensure Porter (and possibly his brother) arrive on campus? Maybe if it were just Porter who was on board — after all, Fultz suits up for every game this season and the Huskies are a 1-4 Pac-12 team with home losses to Yale and Nevada on their resume. But Romar’s next recruiting class, especially if the younger Porter reclassifies, ranks among the five best in the country. Local commitments Daejon Davis and Jaylen Nowell are also top 60 players who can contribute as soon as next season. If we assume that productive pieces like David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle and Noah Dickerson return to school, Washington, on paper, has a chance to be really good.
Therein lies the problem. Washington under Romar in recent years has a habit of looking good on paper. Only UCLA and Arizona in the Pac-12 have as many players in the NBA as the Huskies and yet they haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011. This lack of on-court success since the Isaiah Thomas era has earned Romar the reputation of a coach who regularly seems to do less with more. There is a reasonable chance that next season — even with the strong recruiting class — could be more of the same. In the head coach’s defense, it’s not like he hasn’t won in Seattle before. His 2005 team was a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and he’s won a handful of Pac-10/12 regular season and tournament titles during his tenure. Perhaps the experience of this year’s team could, along with the talented newcomers, help rebuild a defensive identity and provide some corresponding continuity.
Most would agree that kowtowing to recruits is a bad idea — programs that have gone this route rarely end up in a better place than where they started. But with each passing week, as Washington continues to flounder and Porter continues to impress, the pressure for action on the part of the university will only increase. Can Porter save Romar’s job at Washington? The answer to that question may ultimately depend on whether all of those chips Romar has saved over the years is cashable for one last spin of the wheel.