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Surreal scene surrounds prep star Michael Porter Jr.

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian Sports Editor
Published: March 11, 2017, 10:45pm

It’s a common scene at the high school basketball state tournament.

After each game, dozens of people wait for players to emerge from the hallway leading to the Tacoma Dome locker rooms.

They are family, friends and classmates. They offer hugs, handshakes and pats on the back.

There was nothing common about the scene awaiting Michael Porter Jr.

About 100 people waited for him to emerge from that hallway. They were children, teens and adults. They wanted pictures, autographs and a few seconds of his time.

Before Porter exited the locker room after a semifinal win, a large man bellowed that the Nathan Hale star would not be doing any interviews. Autographs would be limited to 10 minutes.

Last weekend’s WIAA state tournament was a typical high school hoopfest. That was unless you stepped inside the vortex of hype swirling around the nation’s top high school basketball player.

Porter took the tournament by storm. In three games, he averaged 30 points and 14 rebounds. He punctuated Nathan Hale’s 3A state title with an off-the-backboard tomahawk slam worthy of the NBA dunk contest.

And the NBA is where Porter likely will be after an obligatory year of college hoops at the University of Washington, where his father is an assistant coach.

If not for the NBA’s rule requiring one year of college, Porter would be a top pick in this year’s draft. At 6-foot-9 with fluid mobility who can score in the key or beyond the 3-point line, he’s a scout’s dream.

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ESPN ranks him as the nation’s top high school player. His highlights have been on SportsCenter. He has nearly 23,000 followers on Twitter.

The NBA is more than a year away. The hysteria is here now.

That made this year’s state tournament unlike any in recent memory. It wasn’t just the on-court show that left no doubt why Porter is sometimes called “Baby Durant.”

The adulators, autograph seekers and handlers were what you’d associate with Kevin Durant, not an 18-year-old at a high school tournament.

Before he became Porter’s high school coach; before he became an All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers, Brandon Roy was a highly touted player at Seattle’s Garfield High School.

“I’ve never seen a buzz like this around any other player ever,” Roy said. “And I’ve been around for a while.”

By all accounts, Porter is a well-adjusted young man with a solid upbringing and a strong support network. He seems comfortable in the spotlight and well-equipped to handle fame.

But you could see the trouble for someone lacking maturity and surrounded by the wrong people. For every LeBron James, there are a few Johnny Manziels who are swept up in their own hype, ending up far from their moorings.

Only after Nathan Hale beat Garfield in the state title game were members of the media allowed to talk with Porter.

I had just one question. How, with all the hype and attention, is it possible to stay grounded?

“I know this isn’t about me,” he answered. “I didn’t ask to be 6-foot-9. This is from God. I’m just trying to give back to Him. That’s what keeps me humble.”

After two more questions from other reporters, the large man from the previous night put an abrupt end to the interview.

And with that, Porter was swept back into a world few teenagers will ever know.

Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, micah.rice@columbian.com or via Twitter @col_mrice.