CEDAR RAPIDS - Earlier this season, a reporter asked Iowa City West boys' tennis coach Mitch Gross about the #x201c;triple crown#x201d; of prep tennis.
At the time, Gross dismissed the thought of winning a state championship in singles, dou ... »
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In 1983, Lisa Becker scored 58.7 points a game for Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School.
“Fifty-eight points a game my senior year, my kids can’t get that,” the-now Lisa Porter said with a laugh from her Seattle home recently. The 6-on-6 game that year’s Iowa “Miss Basketball” played is something from her era, not theirs.
But what her eight children do get is basketball itself. Her two oldest, Bri and Cierra Porter, are on the University of Missouri women’s team coached by Robin Pingeton, Lisa’s sister.
Bri’s playing career was prematurely halted last fall by a torn ACL. As a sophomore, Cierra led Mizzou in rebounding and was second in scoring in the season that just ended, with the Tigers reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Then there’s Lisa’s oldest son, 6-foot-10 Michael Porter Jr. The high school senior signed a national letter of intent with the Missouri men’s team last week. The popular speculation is his brother Jontay, listed in the top 50 nationally in his class, will do the same in a year.
If you haven’t heard of Michael Porter Jr., you will. He was named both the Naismith and Gatorade National High School Player of the Year at Nathan Hale High in Seattle. That double-double has been equaled by a handful of players over the last three decades. Included are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
Porter averaged 36.2 points, 13.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists for his unbeaten, state-championship club. He also was the MVP of the March 29 McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago.
For now, Porter is the consensus pick to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Some say he would be this year’s top pick were he draft-eligible.
Yet, Lisa Porter says, “Basketball’s not defining my kids.
“Faith is the most important thing for me and our family. We look at basketball as an opportunity to have an impact, and God certainly blessed my children with the gift in that area.”
Let’s backtrack. Lisa Becker grew up in Atkins and transferred to Jefferson for high school. She played for Larry Niemeyer’s J-Hawks at the tail end of the six-player era in Iowa’s larger schools.
Nationally recruited, she stayed close to home and played for the University of Iowa from 1983-1987, scoring 1,335 points. During that time, the Hawkeyes won their first Big Ten women’s basketball title and went to their first NCAA tourney.
Lisa got her MBA and entered the business world, but took some time off to play for Athletes in Action. AIA’s mission statement is “To build spiritual movements everywhere through the platform of sports so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.”
Lisa met her future husband, Michael Porter Sr., in a gymnasium, naturally. It was at a Cincinnati-area where AIA men’s and women’s teams were practicing.
“I don’t think I’d have ever met my husband or been in a basketball environment like Athletes in Action had I not had the opportunity to play for Coach Larry Niemeyer,” Lisa said. “I wouldn’t have been playing at that high a level. I often reflect on the role he’s had on my life.”
Lisa married Porter, who played at the University of New Orleans. He went on to become a Christian hip-hop artist, and performed around the world.
But when Robin Pingeton, who also was a standout athlete at Jefferson, left her head coaching job at Illinois State to become Missouri’s women’s coach, the Porters moved to Columbia, Mo. Pingeton hired Michael Porter Sr. to be her program’s director of operations in 2010, then made him an assistant coach in 2013.
In 2016, the Porter brothers helped Columbia Tolton Catholic to its first state boys’ basketball championship. Michael Jr. had 31 points and 19 rebounds in the title game.
Then, University of Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar hired Michael Sr. to be an assistant. Romar and Porter had been longtime friends. Romar is Michael Jr.’s godfather.
But Romar got fired last month after 15 years at Washington, and Michael Jr., withdrew his verbal commitment to Washington’s program the next day.
Elsewhere, Cuonzo Martin left the head coaching job at Cal-Berkeley to become Missouri’s coach. Martin, who didn’t know the Porters and vice versa before interviewing Michael Sr. for an assistant’s job, hired him.
So all the Porters will again be together in Columbia. Michael Jr., committed to play at Missouri the day after Martin hired his father. They can all see Cierra play, and she can see her brothers’ games.
“I’m pinching myself at how it’s unfolded,” said Lisa.
She has or will home-school all of her children until they’ve reached eighth- or ninth-grade. In Columbia a few years ago, the Porters bought a shaved ice stand in Columbia and had their kids, Michael included, operate it during the summer to make money and learn responsibility.
Eight kids, with the genetics from two 6-foot-4 parents. That means they ate. They grew.
“We always had enough for meals and clothes,” Lisa said, “but we never had a penny extra.”
She and her husband would discuss finances, and decided it wasn’t a particularly bad idea to encourage the kids to pursue athletic scholarships via basketball, but without forcing the game on them.
“They were young when we started training them, and they just loved it,” Lisa said.
The game came quickly to all the Porter kids. Michael Sr. focused on teaching them to have perimeter skills.
“My two oldest sons are 6-10 but they handle the ball like point guards,” Lisa said. “That’s really equipped them for success.”
Meanwhile, 6-4 Cierra Porter will look to improve on her 13.2-point and 8.1-rebound averages as a Missouri next season when she’s a junior, and she’ll have her family back in Columbia to support her and their Aunt Robin, the head coach.
“Robin’s done a great job building the culture there,” said Lisa. “Apart from my sister, I can’t imagine entrusting my girls to anybody else. ‘Character drives winning’ really is her philosophy. It’s cool to see her success unfolding.”
But Lisa, the matriarch of a basketball dynasty, insists the game isn’t the thing.
“It’s awesome,” she said, “but what I value is equipping my kids to be men and women of God. There are lots of conversations in our house. We have checkpoints with our kids every week.
“Michael Jr.’s two brothers shoot it straight with him. If they see something that’s ‘all about me,’ they’ll tell him. He’ll do the same thing for his siblings.”
The last time Michael Jr. played at Missouri’s Mizzou Arena was the 2016 state-title game. The next time he plays there in a game that counts will be Nov. 10, when Missouri opens the season against Iowa State.
The state of Iowa will be represented that night. By both teams.