Lorenzo Romar, Michael Porter Jr, Brandon Roy & the Unlikely High School National Championship

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By Daudi Abe

The often under-appreciated championship history of sports in Seattle includes—among other milestones—achieving three-fourths of what could be called the EGOT of professional sports. The acronym EGOT identifies the handful of entertainers who have won all four major awards in the fields of television (Emmy), music (Grammy), film (Oscar), and stage (Tony) during their career. The sports equivalent would be championships in the four major American team sports: hockey, basketball, football, and baseball. Older, much larger cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles completed the pro sports EGOT. Boston, for example, won all four league titles between 2005 and 2011. Seattle claimed championships in hockey (Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917), basketball (Sonics won the NBA Finals in 1979), and football (Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII in 2014). The only missing jewel in this crown is a World Series title for the Mariners. However, the local custom of pro sports excellence includes the WNBA, with the Storm winning the WNBA Finals in 2004 and 2010, as well as Seattle Sounders FC, 2016 MLS Cup champions.

This tradition extends beyond professional sports. Most notably, the 1991 University of Washington Husky football team won a national title after defeating the University of Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Now, another local amateur championship possibility looms on the horizon: prep basketball. AAU programs like Rotary Style and Friends of Hoop along with local high schools such as Rainier Beach, Garfield, Franklin and others produced dozens of Division One college stars, a number of whom became NBA draft picks.

In the midst of this wave of high-school basketball success, the University of Washington hired Lorenzo Romar, who played at UW from 1978-80 and became the first African-American coach to lead the Washington Men’s basketball program in 2002. Romar’s success in the mid-2000s raised the Husky’s profile and put UW in the running to land several of the area’s top prospects. Romar experienced success, winning of two Pac-10 league championships, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament six times, and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen three times.

Given Washington’s last tournament appearance in the 2010-11 season and most recent league title in 2011-12, calls for Romar’s removal became louder. Enter the Porter family: Michael Sr. and Jr. Michael Porter Sr. moved his family to Seattle in 2016 from Missouri when he accepted a position as an assistant on Romar’s staff. Porter Jr., a 6-9 forward who is already projected as a top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, committed to play at Washington. The number one player in the class of 2017, he became the highest ranked recruit in the history of the program.

Soon after their arrival, buzz started building about what school Porter Jr. would attend. Would it be Beach? O’Dea? Garfield? The answer: none of the above. Instead it was announced that Porter Jr. and his younger brother, 6-10 forward Jontay, would enroll at Nathan Hale High School, which won a total of three games in 2015-16 and now fielded a team that included seven transfers. In addition, former Garfield High, UW, and NBA All-Star Brandon Roy signed on as Hale’s new head coach. Roy praised the incoming Porter Jr.’s leadership immediately. “From day one, he’s talking to his teammates, and he hadn’t even come to Seattle yet,” Roy told Bleacher Report. “He’s just texting with the guys and I’m like, ‘Man, Mike’s one of the guys already.’ And to be rated so high [in the rankings]? I thought that was cool of him.”

Questions about the ethics of Romar’s hiring of Porter Sr. (the two have known each other since the 1980s), Romar’s job security, the shock of such big names arriving at Nathan Hale, and whether this was a ‘real’ team or a made-up ‘super’ team soon collided with the unstoppable, and undefeated beast of a squad the Raiders became. In December, Hale defeated Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, CA), the number two team in the country, at the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland, OR. Games against Garfield and Rainier Beach in December ended in double-digit wins, Porter Jr. scored 52 points while sitting out the fourth quarter in a blowout of O’Dea, and the Raiders defeated perennial prep powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, VA) on Martin Luther King Day in an ESPN-televised game at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, MA. “I mean, it’s been my goal to be the best player in the country. So on stages like this and the McDonald’s All-American game, those are the stages I’ve gotta come out and really prove something,” Porter Jr. said after the game. “Lately I’ve been having stuff to prove, so every game I want to make a statement. This was another big statement, another big moment, and I just wanted to go out and do my thing.”

According to USA Today, the number one high school player in the country is now playing for the number one high school team in the country, right here in Seattle. On January 27, 2017, ESPN broadcast its first ever high school game from Seattle as Nathan Hale visited Garfield and came away with a hard-fought 69-64 win. If Hale claims the 3A state championship as expected, they will surely move on to the eight-team Dick’s Sporting Goods National Tournament held in New York City. Rainier Beach lost in the first round of this tourney to national dynamo Finley Prep (Las Vegas, NV) in 2014.

A local school with little to no basketball tradition stands at the center of national high school basketball attention. Michael Porter Jr. appears to be the best prep player in state history, and this Nathan Hale team may stake a claim as the greatest in state history. Finishing this title run would certainly stand out as one of the most unlikely championship stories in Seattle sports history. Before the season even started, team confidence was high. “I expect that we will win a State Championship, state ring, and a Dick’s National Championship. And I expect us not to lose a game,” nationally ranked sophomore guard P.J. Fuller, who transferred from Garfield, told the Nathan Hale Sentinel. “I definitely think we have the skills.”