The college basketball world recently received big news: Top-five 2017 recruit Michael Porter Jr. committed to play for the Washington Huskies. The decision gives the program a great class.
Oddly, the commitment — despite Washington’s lack of big-time status — wasn’t all that shocking.
Porter’s father, Michael Porter Sr., was hired as an assistant coach not too long ago. While it is widely perceived that is the sole reason for the recruit’s commitment, it is a bit more layered than that. Washington’s head coach, Lorenzo Romar, is the godfather of Porter Jr. Even without the father of the recruit being hired, there was still a family connection to the prospect.
Those details are important, but they don’t change the larger discussion.
Is it shady or unethical that college programs sometimes hire family members in the transparent attempt to lure prospects?
Family members aren’t the only participants in this game. AAU and high school coaches often act as vessels for a university to land such a prestigious player. One doesn’t have to think too far back to remember Seton Hall hiring Dwayne “Tiny” Morton, who was Isaiah Whitehead’s high school coach, in what was an obvious attempt to land a highly-regarded prospect.
What happened after the prospect was landed and Morton’s services were no longer directly needed? Morton left the program.
For non-family members, a player they mentor at the grassroots level can be more a pawn than a person whose interests are their highest priority. While we didn’t actually know Morton’s motives — the same is true for any other high school or AAU coaches — it is a much safer guess to assume someone such as Porter Sr. has his son’s best interests at heart.
That is worth pointing out, since college basketball is a big industry. Businesses attract people who like money. A grassroots coach who mentors a top prospect can view that person not as a player, but as a commodity and a gateway to wealth and power.
Let’s ask again: Is it unethical or shady for programs to hire family members to lure recruits?
The short answer: One must operate on a case-by-case basis.
Legally speaking, there is no rule in the NCAA handbook that states schools can’t use these outside-the-box tactics to land recruits. Until there is, we can expect more universities to follow this path.
Perception, a place that often matters more than reality, leaves many with a bitter taste in their mouths. Porter Jr. would obviously not be as likely to commit to Washington had his father not been an assistant there. That said, it doesn’t taint the move at all, because Romar has a very real and credible recruiting track record, which can be highlighted by the fact that he had players selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft.
Still, the perception will remain the same. Context and nuance will be hurled out the window in favor of stories about nepotism — which, to be fair, runs roughshod in nearly all aspects of life. It is not exactly exclusive to college basketball.
That’s mostly the point here. Life is full of people who survive, excel, or fail based largely off factors outside of their skill sets. Nepotism, networking and backdoor politics tend to play as much a role — sometimes larger — in who gets what, where and when.
Should the Washington fan base feel guilty, as though its coaching staff scammed the system? Of course not. The system is set in place, and using it to one’s advantage is a brilliant move, not some sort of character flaw.
On the opposite end of the equation, as is nearly always the case, the programs who lost out on Porter likely hate how this went down. They hate that Porter’s dad was a central reason why his son will wear a Huskies uniform in 2017.
Naturally, though, those same programs will only be upset with something like that until… you know… they do the very same thing.
Grassroots coaches, family members, or a prospect’s favorite barista, it doesn’t matter: College basketball programs can — and should — do whatever possible (within reasonable limits, of course) to acquire whomever they want… not because it isn’t illegal, but because there’s zero reason to avoid getting a leg up on the competition.
After all, the have-nots of the college basketball world already have to fight an uphill battle against those who already have all the clout, money, and power at their disposal. Sometimes a program has to work with all it has — even if that is merely the ability to hire someone who can influence a program-changing player’s mind.