Michael Porrini: A rare breed of toughness


Junior guard Michael Porrini is in fifth place in the Mid-American Conference for steals. Photo by Matt Hafley.

Rachel Jones

When Coach Geno Ford recruits new players to the Kent State men’s basketball team, he looks for one thing: toughness.

The physicality of the college-level sport paired with a schedule that, at times, seems endless, means players need to be able to withstand physical and mental beatings.

“To us, we’ve always put a premium on toughness — mental and physical,” Ford said. “All of our guys have been brought here because we thought they could withstand the grind of college basketball and traveling.”

Insert Michael Porrini.

The junior guard gained recognition recently for his game-winning baskets against Western Michigan on Feb. 21 and Buffalo on Feb. 24. But Porrini stood out all season for his aggressive playing style.

“Mike is extremely physical for a guard,” Ford said. “He’d be physical for any position, but when you factor in that he’s our point guard — he’s one of the most physical players in the country in that sense. He’s a gritty, gutty, hard-nosed guy who’s not afraid of contact.”

Porrini uses his scrappy playing style to get Kent State the ball by any means necessary, and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

Although he’s Kent State’s second-shortest player, the 6-foot-2 guard can dive into a pile of players fighting for a loose ball on the court and magically emerge with the ball.

With 51 this season, Porrini is in fifth place in the Mid-American Conference for steals. He credits his instincts to immediately snatch any loose balls to a background in football.

“Growing up in Massillon, (Ohio), that’s what you’re taught is to do football,” Porrini explained. “At birth, we’re given footballs in our cribs.”

While Porrini started to carry on his town’s football tradition in third grade, his first love was actually baseball, which he played until seventh grade.

“I did basketball and football because my friends did them,” Porrini said. “I didn’t actually like either one.”

But once he started high school, he liked football and basketball because he could “take out a lot of anger and not get in trouble for it.”

While he still sees sports as a good stress-reliever, Porrini said he cannot take out too much anger and risk a foul.

Porrini tries to turn down his aggressiveness and play smarter if he is in foul trouble, but he has still fouled out four times this season. The most recent time was at Drexel on Feb. 18.

“It’s the worst experience in playing basketball,” Porrini said. “It might be worse than losing. You want to be out there, and you want to compete with your team (but can’t).”

But most of those fouls came from offensive plays or rebounds, instead of defensive battles with his opposition. After covering everyone from point guards to power forwards, Ford said Porrini always does his job with the correct skills and smarts.

“Mike has the whole package of the anticipation, strength, knowing where to be and getting there when he needs to,” Ford said. “It’s certainly a rare package to have good hands, good feet and be as strong as he is.”

Most guards with bulky muscles like Porrini are heavy on their feet, but his quickness paired with his strength make him a rare commodity.

“That all comes from Massillon,” Porrini said, who started lifting for football in eighth grade. “From me being able to do that at an early age, it allowed my body to get bulkier.”

But his strength as a player is not just physical.

Ford said Porrini gets on players for not trying hard enough in practice or games. Because he also leads by example, no one questions or disregards the first-year Kent State player.

But to Porrini, being a tough player is deeper than how you lead your teammates or your how many points you score.

“It’s not about skill level, how strong you are or anything like that,” Porrini said. “It’s all about your heart. There aren’t too many people who have a bigger heart than me when we touch in-between those four lines (on the court).”

That mentality is one of the few things Porrini has that does not stem from football.

It comes from his mother and grandparents who raised him and taught him to do his best in sports — something he continues to do today.

“If I see something happening, I’m going to do it,” Porrini explained. “I’m not depending on or trying to wait for anyone else to do it. I just go out there and do it.”