Michael Porter heading for home

Ex-Cat reflects on UK career before return to California

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 8, 2009 

Michael Porter has a new baby, a new job and will soon have a new residence in California.

Yet as the official tip-off of the Kentucky basketball season approaches, he feels an old longing.

"I miss basketball a lot," the former UK point guard said last week. "My whole life, my identity has been 'a guy who plays sports.' Now, I'm looking for something to fill that void."

Porter could still be wearing the Kentucky blue and white, of course, could be a senior on the current UK basketball roster.

But last spring, after a difficult junior year under Billy Gillispie and shortly before Porter and wife Bryana were to become parents for the first time, the guard told new Kentucky coach John Calipari he would not return for his final season.

"I was excited about the new coach and the new system," Porter said. "That had nothing to do with why I left. I decided in my heart I wasn't going to play long before we even knew (Gillispie) was going to get fired."

Though there was a major roster purge at Kentucky after Calipari brought a bevy of highly talented recruits with him to Lexington, Porter says he had the option to stay.

So why would one give up the chance to be a part of one of the most anticipated Kentucky basketball seasons ever?

In part, Porter said it was a family decision.

He and the former Bryana Malone were high school sweethearts in Modesto, Calif. They married in May, 2007.

The couple's child, a little girl they named Payslie, is now 15 weeks old.

If he played basketball this year, Porter says he didn't like the idea of being gone on road trips and leaving his wife and little girl behind.

Since he earned a UK degree in finance in three years "and because we were having the baby, I just thought it was time to sort of get on with my life," Porter said.

Life with Billy G.

Another part of his decision not to play his final year at UK was based on something close to burnout after "two stressful years" playing under Gillispie, Porter says.

"My first year (with Billy G.) was extremely hard," Porter said. "But I grew. I guess you'd say I grew to cope with his coaching methods unlike some of the other players did."

Josh Harrellson, the Kentucky big man, acknowledged in this pre-season that during last season's loss at Vanderbilt, Gillispie banished him to a bathroom stall during halftime as an apparent show of displeasure with his play.

Porter says such motivational ploys were common under Gillispie.

"There were lots of things that happened like that," Porter said. "I'm not gonna say whether I did or didn't like him. That was just his way of coaching. I do think he cared about me as a person and thought he was doing things to help you get better."

After his daughter was born, Porter said he got a congratulatory text message from Gillispie.

Target of fans

Gillispie's mind games were not the only thing that raised the stress level for Porter last season.

When the guard was recruited by Tubby Smith from Chuck Hayes' old high school, Modesto Christian, I don't think the plan was ever for Porter to be a starting point guard at Kentucky.

But circumstances — recruiting failures and a key (Derrick Jasper) player transfer — thrust Porter into that role last season even though he did not possess the physical skill level of a vintage UK point guard.

In terms of fan scrutiny, playing point at Kentucky is a bit like playing quarterback at Notre Dame. As UK collapsed into mediocrity in the second half of last season, lashing Porter became a common pastime for elements of a frustrated fan base.

"That didn't help him," said Gary Porter, Michael's father and his high school coach. "Michael would tell you that stuff didn't bother him, but I don't see how it couldn't."

Michael Porter said he heard some of the less-than-flattering things being said about him by UK fans.

"There were times I didn't handle that real great," he said. "I was like, 'Why have I been put in this situation?'"

In retrospect, Porter said he has no hard feelings toward any UK backers. "That's just Kentucky fans. They're very passionate," he said.

Moving on

This fall, as the buzz has built around Calipari's first Kentucky basketball team, Porter has been working in sales for a Paducah-based technology firm.

Zanson Enterprises produces applications for the iPhone as well as other products.

He's also adjusting to being a dad. The good news "is that Payslie sleeps more than me. She's been good in that way," Porter said.

When we talked last week, Porter said he and his family are only weeks from moving to California.

"We love Lexington," he said. "The town. Our church (Southland Christian). But we want to be closer to our families. We want our daughter to grow up around the rest of her family."

In California, Porter said he plans to continue to work for Zanson. He's also had thoughts of becoming a personal trainer.

Long term, Porter says he may follow his dad's career path and try coaching high school sports.

For now, Porter is still adjusting to life as an ex-Kentucky Wildcat.

He talks with Mark Krebs, his best friend on the UK team, regularly. Porter texts with his former roommate, Perry Stevenson.

"There's a lot about playing basketball for Kentucky I miss," Porter said. "I miss that probably the most, the friendships."

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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