Michael Porter has lived the University of Kentucky basketball life for three years.
Earlier this week, he decided it was time to get on with his own.
The Modesto Christian graduate informed new Wildcats coach John Calipari on Tuesday that he would be leaving the team, foregoing his senior year of eligibility.
Porter, who turns 23 in May, completed degree requirements in business management in three years and is seeking a spot in Kentucky's MBA program. He is married, to fellow MC graduate Bryana Malone, and the couple is expecting their first child.
"I've been thinking about this for a while, especially since my wife is pregnant and I was able to graduate in three years," Porter said. "It came down to my priorities changing at this time in my life. It's better for me and her and my family to move on. It will be better for our future."
Porter started at guard in all 36 games this season for the Wildcats, averaging 4.1 points and connecting on 32 3-pointers. But Kentucky's string of 17 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament fizzled, and the Wildcats season ended March 25 with a loss to Notre Dame in the NIT quarterfinals.
Within a few days, Kentucky fired coach Billy Gillespie and replaced him with Calipari. Because Porter was recruited to UK and played his first season under Tubby Smith, staying in the program would have meant adjusting to his third coach.
"The coaching change wasn't a major part of my decision, but it was a factor," Porter said. "I don't like change that much, and a new coach brings a new staff. When Coach Gillespie got the job, that first year was the hardest year I've had in basketball. But I was already thinking about not playing next year when the change was made and I probably wouldn't have played no matter what."
Dad 'floored' by decision
Porter's decision came as a surprise to his father, Modesto Christian coach Gary Porter. The elder Porter spoke to his son after the loss to Notre Dame, and said that Michael had indicated then that he was returning for a senior season.
"I was floored with the decision," Gary Porter said. "But Michael feels good about it, and he's ready to move on. Personally, I'm going through mourning about this. He did it in a way where I couldn't talk him out of this decision, and I would have tried.
"Now, I'm getting calls from coaches around the country offering him a place to play. He told me that if he wanted to play, he'd be playing at Kentucky. I just think with everything else going on in his life he felt he couldn't give the 110 percent he needed to give to play at Kentucky, and I understand that."
Michael Porter was no stranger to Kentucky before he enrolled, because he was following the lead of fellow MC graduate Chuck Hayes. Even then, he described the basketball experience at Kentucky as something that must be lived to understand.
"I think there are only a couple other places that compare to this," he said, "and the fans here are more passionate than anything you've seen. When you're winning, it's the best place in the world to be. When you're losing, you might get yelled at on the street, and I've experienced some of that."
He said that upon arriving at Kentucky he didn't have an idea of how much chance he would get to play. Few major Division I programs recruited Porter coming out of MC.
But Porter saw action in all but five of the Wildcats' games as a freshman under Smith, then played in 25 games as a sophomore, starting nine, in Gillespie's first season before becoming a full-time starter this year.
"When I first got here I didn't think I would play that much right away, but things opened up for me," he said. "After I had started a couple games I had to sit down for a moment and let it sink in that I was a starter at Kentucky."
Now, Porter is ready to make another transition.
"I would never trade this experience for anything — not only the basketball part but the people I've met," he said. "I met a lot of people I'll be friends with forever. I got to play on college basketball's biggest stages and on national TV while staying in the best hotels and getting the best treatment. Not many people people get to have those kinds of experiences.
"I love basketball and I will miss that. But I'm happy with the decision I made and I won't have any regrets."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.