The last decade has seen a large increase in NCAA basketball programs hiring the family members of top recruits. The NCAA previously enacted a rule to stop the hiring of family by NCAA programs to non-coaching positions. However this rule was not extended to assistant coaching positions, which left a loophole open for this practice to continue. The rule has become so ingrained in college basketball that major media companies have had very candid interviews on the subject with college coaches.
“We are paid to win games, and the easiest way to win games is to have great players,” one coach anonymously told CBS Sports. “And one legal way to get a great player is to hire somebody close to that player. I've never done it, personally. But if the opportunity presented itself, I absolutely would.”
I personally had a front-row seat to this questionable hiring practice when the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2017 and current Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. and his brother Jontay Porter, also a top-25 recruit and current member of the Memphis Grizzlies, transferred from Missouri to my “historically irrelevant” high school shortly after their father, Michael Porter Sr., was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Washington.
University of Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar was a longtime friend of Porter Sr. and godfather to Porter Jr. Despite the relationship with Romar, the family appeared to have little reason to move was it not for the University of Washington hiring Porter Sr. Romar gave his longtime friend a two-year contract with a base salary of $300,000, a relatively unheard of sum for someone with Porter Sr.’s experience. Regardless of the results of his coaching, college coaches elsewhere acknowledged the value of this hire.
“I think Lorenzo Romar made the most significant hire of this offseason,” a coach anonymously told CBS Sports.
Once their father was on staff at the university, Porter Jr. and Jontay were given access to many of Washington's basketball facilities. In another attempt to draw the Porter family to Seattle, former University of Washington standout and NBA All-Star Brandon Roy agreed to take over as the head coach of their high school basketball team.
This shameless attempt to groom star recruits did, however, come to an abrupt end without either Porter Jr. or Jontay playing a minute for Washington. Romar was fired at the end of the 2017 season after going 9-22. Following the firing, the Porter family moved back to Missouri after Michael Porter Sr. was offered a second coaching position; this time as part of the University of Missouri coaching staff. This was unsurprisingly followed with a recommitment from both of the Porter brothers from Washington to Missouri.
Once at Missouri, Porter Sr. was given an even bigger contract. He signed a three-year deal for $1.125 million. When this contract came to an end in 2020, Porter Sr. was moved to a non-coaching role at a reduced salary. A move that would have been illegal had it taken place prior to the Porter brothers playing days at Missouri.
Given this amount, the lack of NCAA involvement is quite astounding. The basis for the investigation into impermissible benefits paid by NC State to Dennis Smith Jr. is less than one-twentieth the value of the contract of Porter Sr. While they are different scenarios, both are clear examples of providing a player with a financial incentive to attend a program.
The scope of this problem appears to be growing in size. Two of the three top recruits from the class of 2020 are attending programs that hired a family member of the recruit prior to their commitment.
The No. 2 recruit in the nation for the class of 2020, Cade Cunningham, chose to attend Oklahoma State after his brother was hired as an assistant coach. Cannen Cunningham is, by all accounts, a positive member of the coaching staff. However, his working experience is limited to coaching middle school basketball and as the associate director of video operations at Tulane. It is certainly not the résumé of someone that would be high on the radar of Division I coaches were it not for his connection with Cade Cunningham.
The No. 3 recruit in the nation for the class of 2020, Evan Mobley, and the No. 16 recruit in the class of 2019, Isaiah Mobley, chose to attend USC after their dad, Eric Mobley, was hired to the coaching staff. Prior to joining the staff, Eric had spent 11 years running AAU programs. He had also spent time as the head coach of a high school girls basketball team in California.
There are 350 Division I college basketball teams, so taking one of those schools out of the equation for immediate family members to work for during the recruiting process of their family isn’t a lot to ask. Without this change, this hiring practice will only continue to grow, making whichever school gives their family member the biggest contract the only question recruits must ask of schools.