Perhaps only the most die-hard of basketball fans have been following the trail of Michael Porter Jr. of Columbia, Mo., who's been the topic of heated discussion lately.
But only the most basketball-minded of those die-hards perhaps know of the strong Iowa ties that the 6'10” high school senior power forward has.
Michael Porter Jr. made news recently when he signed a national letter of intent to play basketball at the University of Washington after head coach Lorenzo Romar had hired Porter's dad, Michael, as an assistant coach. Michael Porter Sr. played college basketball in New Orleans and later played in the NBA. During an Athletes in Action weekend in Ohio, he ran into, literally, Lisa Becker, a native of Atkins, Iowa, and an all-state basketball player at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School and later a standout at the University of Iowa.
The rest, as they say, is history. Porter and Lisa Becker wed and Michael Jr. is the oldest of eight children. He's not the only basketball “star” in the family. Older sister Bri had her career at the University of Missouri interrupted with a torn ACL, but plans to return to the team as soon as her knee is healed. Michael's younger brother Jontay is a junior in high school this season and, some say, will be even more coveted by college coaches than his brother. And, as the younger Porter children age, there's little doubt that each will also excel on the basketball court.
The Iowa ties go beyond Lisa Becker, however.
Lisa's sister, Robin (Becker) Pingeton is the University of Missouri women's basketball coach. She was an all-state player at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School. Lisa was not only an all-stater at Jefferson, but was also named “Miss Basketball” in Iowa in 1982.
The Becker sisters grew up in their parents' home west of Cedar Rapids on a property adjacent to Highway 30. The home, south of Atkins, lies within the Benton Community School District, but the sisters open enrolled at Jefferson where they played basketball for legendary Coach Larry Niemeyer, who led what was then Adel-DeSoto to the high school basketball state tournament in the early '80s. Niemeyer also coached the Adel-DeSoto softball team to the state tournament.
As noted, the Becker girls grew up on the family property on U.S. Highway 30, known previously as the “Lincoln Highway,” the first highway to cross Iowa from the Mississippi to the Missouri. Folks passing the property would probably never know that two future basketball phenoms lived there, but they would certainly have noticed the property itself.
It was known as “Becker Auto Salvage” and hundreds of junked vehicles lined the highway. Lisa and Robin's parents, Arlo and Judy, were quite well known among auto race enthusiasts across Iowa. First, Arlo was an outstanding driver, a man who has been inducted into the Hawkeye Downs Hall of Fame in Cedar Rapids. He raced well into his '70s and was still winning races at a time he had trouble getting into, and out of, his race car, squeezing through the small side window opening. Arlo and his wife, who passed away several years ago, operated B&B Promotions in Atkins and promoted auto races and demolition derbies at county fairs all over Iowa and in neighboring states.
When a group of old-timers gathered early last month at a racers' reunion gathering in Solon, east of Cedar Rapids, Arlo Becker was among those attending. Those of us who were there, however, didn't find ol' Arlo talking of his exploits behind the wheel of a race car, though. Nope, he had his iPhone at the ready. “Look at this,” he'd admonish anyone nearby. “This is my grandson! He's the No. 1 basketball recruit in America. Yup, it's Lisa's son. His younger brother is going to be even better than he is.”
It was like that most of the afternoon. And, Arlo has plenty of reasons to be proud.
He spends his winters in Columbia with daughter Robin and her family. He goes to plenty of Mizzou games and gets to spend time with his grandchildren there.
And, he'll have plenty of time to see Michael Jr. play, too. Although he signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Washington after his father was hired as an assistant there, he asked for, and received, a release from that agreement when Head Coach Romar was fired. Porter Sr., who had been an assistant women's coach for his sister-in-law Robin Pingeton, was again out of a job.
That's when Mizzou stepped in. Porter Sr. will be an assistant for the men's team now and his oldest son will, in effect, be playing for his father when the 2017-18 season rolls 'round. Looks like Iowa's loss is Missouri's gain.
Those of us who watched Arlo Becker's exploits on the race tracks of Iowa don't have that opportunity any longer. Arlo's 78 years old now. He's got better things to do than to drive around the track at break-neck speed.
He's got grandchildren to watch on the basketball court.