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Forget Brandon Roy, the Former Player; Meet Brandon Roy, the High School Coach

Kai-Huei Yau
Tyler Richardson Featured Columnist IFebruary 22, 2017

It's Friday night inside a crowded high school gym in Seattle's central district, and Brandon Roy is right where he wants to be.

Fans waited in line for hours to see Nathan Hale, the top-ranked school in the country, and McDonald's All-American forward Michael Porter Jr. take on local powerhouse Garfield. They also waited to see another star, one whose light had faded in recent years.

The game is a homecoming of sorts for Roy, who once starred for Garfield and whose No. 4 jersey hangs in the school's rafters. But the prodigal son of one of Seattle's most historic basketball programs returned to his alma mater as the enemy this time to lead his new team as it tries to become one of the greatest in state history.

Roy, 32, made his official return to basketball this season when he took over as head coach at Nathan Hale, a historically irrelevant program in the Emerald City that was coming off a dismal 3-18 year.

After an injection of talent before the season in the form of Porter and his younger brother Jontay, talented transfers from Columbia, Missouri, Roy has resurrected the school. Currently undefeated and ranked No. 1 nationally, the Raiders have proved themselves on some of the biggest stages in the country, securing wins over then-No. 1 Sierra Canyon from California and prestigious Oak Hill Academy.

The team's success has returned Roy to the spotlight, something the former All-Star couldn't care less about. But his new position has given him the opportunity to start a new basketball journey, one he hopes won't end as cruelly as his last.

"Hopefully I can do good enough to where they can forget about me as a player and I can be known as a coach," Roy said.

It's been nearly four years since the 6'6" combo guard with the silky-smooth mid-range game stepped on an NBA court. The memories are still fresh.

The early return from a torn meniscus to lead the University of Washington to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Rookie of the Year season, All-NBA team selections and three consecutive All-Star appearances. The 18 fourth-quarter points to seal a comeback playoff victory against the Mavericks. The list of last-second game-winners.

Brandon Roy averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in four years at Washington.
Brandon Roy averaged 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in four years at Washington.Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

There's no question Roy—whom Kobe Bryant once called the toughest player to guard in the Western Conferencewas special. The story of his decline is well-known by now and has left many fans of the game wondering "what if."

Roy was on pace for a Hall of Fame career with the Portland Trail Blazers, a franchise he helped reinvent from the disappointment and dysfunction of the "Jail Blazers" era. But his hoop dreams were derailed by a series of knee injuries over the course of his career, starting when he tore his meniscus going into his senior year of high school. The scopes that followed left Roy with a lack of cartilage, causing a painful bone-on-bone grind when he played.

By the 2010-11 season, the knees began to fail Roy, contributing to a career low in games and minutes played. Unable to perform and fearing his degenerative knees could cause problems later in life, Roy walked away during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.

He attempted a comeback a year later in Minnesota, the team that originally drafted him No. 6 overall, but another surgery sidelined him after just five games. After his body betrayed him, Roy officially retired at 28, after six seasons and 326 games, with a career average just shy of 19 points per game.

Roy retreated into relative obscurity, where he found genuine comfort. He's taken time over the last few years to enjoy family life, be around his two children and not dwell too much on why his playing career had been stripped from him.

He appreciated being somewhat of a forgotten figure, deciding against becoming a TV analyst. Although it was tough at times to accept the reality that his playing days were over, Roy says he didn't feel sorry for himself or question why the injuries happened.

Will Conroy, a former NBA player and Roy's teammate at Washington, knew his close friend missed competing at the highest level but also that Roy was at peace with how his career ended.

"The playing thing was the most heartache he had to suffer, just not being able to have the camaraderie in the locker room and get on the court," Conroy said. "That part bothered him the most. But the living part of it, the aspect of losing fame and all that, didn't bother him one bit. Not one bit."

Roy stayed around the basketball scene in Seattle, working out with some of the area's best talent and pondering a future in coaching. Those around Roy urged him to make the move. If he were to jump into coaching, Roy wanted a job that would allow him the freedom to still spend time with his children.

Then the job at Nathan Hale opened. It was a short car ride from his home, and Roy thought it was a good fit. And minus a celebrated history, the school provided him an opportunity to build his own program. He was named head coach last summer, becoming the school's fifth coach in five years.

Named the Rookie of the Year in 2006-07, Roy played an average of 64 games per season in his five years with the Trail Blazers.
Named the Rookie of the Year in 2006-07, Roy played an average of 64 games per season in his five years with the Trail Blazers.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

The hire raised eyebrows across the state. The school won only a single league game the year before Roy arrived and lost one game by a jaw-dropping 81 points. Nathan Hale hasn't qualified for a state tournament since 1994when its new coach was in elementary school.

Historically, the program has been a bottom feeder in Seattle's Metro League, the hotbed for premier talent from the city over the last few decades.

Doug Christie, Jason Terry, Jamal Crawford, Roy, Nate Robinson, Martell Webster, Terrence Williams, Spencer Hawes, Peyton Siva and Tony Wroten are among the players the league's top programs have delivered to the NBA in recent times. To have success and ultimately transform the program, Roy needed elite talent to coach, which the roster he initially inherited didn't possess.

By the time he was hired, Roy's All-Star persona and NBA credentials had lured the Porter brothers, including younger sibling Coban, a 6'3" freshman, to Nathan Hale.

Michael, a dynamic 6'10" wing, and Jontay, a 4-star junior (according to Scout.com) who stands 6'8", had just led their school, Father Tolton, to a state title in Missouri, and both are ranked among the best prospects in their respective classes.

Their father, Michael Porter Sr., a former assistant for the University of Missouri's women's team, had accepted an assistant position on coach Lorenzo Romar's staff at Washington, where the brothers have committed to play college basketball.

Although speculation swirled that Porter Sr. was added to the staff to secure the commitment of his sons, Porter Sr. and Romar have been longtime friends, and their relationship runs deep. Romar coached Porter Sr. in the early 1990s and is Porter Jr.'s godfather.

"The wife and I talked and prayed about it and decided we should do it," Porter Sr. said of his family's move and decision to pick Nathan Hale.

As can happen in high school basketball, dominoes began to fall across the state soon after the Porters transferred. Players jumped at the chance to play for Roy and with the Porters. Within months, seven players transferred to the school, including the entire current starting lineup.

The revamped roster features a possible No. 1 overall draft pick in Porter Jr. and is littered with potential Division I players, including talented sophomore P.J. Fuller, a top-25 prospect in the class of 2019.

With an infusion of talented transfer students, Roy has turned a team that hasn't made the state tournament since 1994 into a national power.
With an infusion of talented transfer students, Roy has turned a team that hasn't made the state tournament since 1994 into a national power.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

As the players began to get to know each other on the court, others across the country started to recognize the collection of talent assembled under Roy.

Nathan Hale started the season ranked in the Top 25 nationally by USA Today. The school won its first eight games handily, setting up a major test at the Les Schwab Invitational against top-ranked Sierra Canyon. The California school features Marvin Bagley III, arguably the best junior in the nation, and UCLA-bound, 6'8" power forward Cody Riley.

In the final game of the holiday tournament, the Raiders came from behind late, led by Porter's 27 points and 15 rebounds, to upset Sierra Canyon in Portland, the city that Roy once owned. Three weeks later, Nathan Hale beat perennial powerhouse Oak Hill in a game televised on ESPN, behind 36 points from Porter.

The program had officially arrived.

"Those games were big for us," said Jamaal Williams, a Nathan Hale assistant and Roy's teammate at Washington. "We weren't sure how good we could be when the Porters came. But the team has come together and earned everything they have gotten."

Questions arose before the season about whether Roy's inexperience could hurt the team in close games and how well the group of transplants would jell together. Roy has handled the job well so far, often putting his stars in the right positions to make plays and keeping the team focused amid the mounting attention.

In particular, he has relied on some of the same skills that made him deadly in the NBA, most notably his ice-cool demeanor in pressure-packed situations and his high basketball IQ. While fans were amazed by Roy's ability to finish around the basket and score in bunches, his teammates and coaches were impressed with his understanding of the game and how he anticipated plays.

"Brandon has always been light-years ahead of his competition as far as the mental side of the game," said Conroy, who compares Roy to a great counterpuncher in boxing. "I'm not sure he can explain to someone in words how he sees the game."

Michael Porter Jr., considered one of the top prospects in the country, says his game has become more diversified in his one season with Roy at Nathan Hale.
Michael Porter Jr., considered one of the top prospects in the country, says his game has become more diversified in his one season with Roy at Nathan Hale.Gregory Payan/Associated Press

To better translate the unique way he views the game, Roy has laced up his sneakers and at times hit the court with his players. The on-court interactions allow Roy to impart his vision and to better connect with his players.

Still, these are teenagers and, when all else fails, keeping that long-practiced sense of calm has also been an asset for the rookie coach.

"The biggest thing about me as a player is I never panicked. I was always relaxed," Roy said. "I think them trusting me and knowing 'coach is calm,' they can look over and always see a calming voice and a guy that knows how to get them in good spots and good position."

Roy's basketball mind has certainly helped his team this year, but make no mistake that the success this season has been propelled by the play of Porter. The do-it-all forward was no secret before arriving in Seattle, but his recent play in high-profile games has him leading the conversation of who's the best high school player in America.

Coaches rave about how he carries himself and the way he prepares. He has showcased a reliable stroke from deep, an efficient post game and a killer instinct while averaging 35-plus points per game. His ability to handle the ball at his size, beat defenders off the dribble and pull up from anywhere on the floor has people drawing comparisons to Paul George and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether Porter could make the jump to the NBA if the rules didn't prevent it, there was little hesitation from coaches and evaluators.

"There's no question," Raiders assistant Jamaal Williams said. "Michael is so special."

Porter also has seen his game grow under Roy's watch, becoming savvier and more versatile as a scorer.

"If my shot [wasn't] falling in the past, I've struggled to get easy buckets," Porter said. "But working with B-Roy, if my shot isn't falling I'll just take them to the low post, even the mid-post, and get some easy buckets. He's really helped with efficiency around the rim."

Currently, Roy has his team on the path to the state championship in early March. A possible invitation to the DICK'S Sporting Goods High School Nationals Tournament in New York could follow, giving Nathan Hale an opportunity to claim the title of best team in the country. The team would be only the second from Washington state to play in the national tournament.

Whether Roy stays at Nathan Hale and tries to build a legacy or leaves to pursue a higher-profile job remains a question. Those who know Roy and work with him, however, say being around the game daily has lit a fire within the former star, evoking a renewed sense of passion for his true love.

Although Roy doesn't get as introspective when talking about returning to the court, he does look forward to writing the next chapter in his basketball life, a story that he hopes has a better ending than the last.

"I'm happy. I couldn't be in a better spot right now," Roy said. "Hopefully it's the first step in a long journey."

   

All recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com unless otherwise noted.

Tyler Richardson is a feature reporter covering high school, college and NBA basketball in Seattle. He hopes to cover the SuperSonics' return to the Emerald City. Follow him on Twitter: @Ty_richardson.

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