Sarah Porter's parents claim to have seen this coming. Listening to her argue with her brother, they just knew she someday would become a lawyer.
The passion that would drive the Utah women’s basketball player on the path toward law school took more time to emerge. Her views were shaped by an influential professor and an NFL quarterback, as she recognized how her own mixed-race makeup would motivate her.
The daughter of a Filipino mother and an African-American father witnessed her parents helping people and “just developed her own thing for social injustice,” Anthony Porter said.
Sarah Porter, he added, “definitely stands firm on what she believes in.”
Or kneels, to make a point. During the 2016-17 season, Porter joined more than half of her UC Santa Barbara teammates in kneeling for the national anthem in what they described as a show of solidarity with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, protesting the treatment of black youth. Before one game, UCSB players gave handouts to fans, explaining their stance.
“We felt that we did have a platform to speak to our audience,” Porter said this week. “Some were with us, some weren't. We did have a lot of backlash; we got called names during the kneeling. I think it was a great experience, just because I finally felt that I was doing something that stood [against] social injustice. … I'm proud of that moment.”
The demonstration lasted all season on a campus where Porter began to see her future in helping underserved people. Former UCSB professor Mia White’s Civil Rights course gave Porter more appreciation for her ethnic background and motivated her to make an impact with marginalized, at-risk kids. “College really helped me find my identity and really relate to other mixed-race people,” she said. Learning about “the mass incarceration of African-Americans really just hit me and made me want to serve youth,” she said. “The prison pipeline is very evident in low-income, inner-city [settings], with a lack of resources.”
And when she looked into Utah's basketball program as a graduate transfer, she wanted more than merely an opportunity to play in the Pac-12. “If I'm being candid, a lot of times grad transfers look through the catalog and find the grad program that the other school doesn't have so they can get eligible. But Sarah wasn't like that,” said Ute coach Lynne Roberts. “She was legitimately motivated by school first, in terms of, “I don't want this to just be about basketball,' which tells you a lot about her.”
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So while adapting to a new team for the third time in her college career (she played one season at Mississippi before transferring to UCSB, much closer to home in southern California), Porter is pursuing a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy. Next stop: law school, followed by a career path that may take her into the practice of criminal law or administration of a nonprofit organization — whatever way she best can help people who need her.
At the moment, that servant’s approach applies to the unbeaten Utes. Fitting into another program, even one in transition with a youthful roster and welcoming players, has not been easy.
“Just because I'm a transfer, I feel like it's been hard, trying to find my place, but the returners have been helping me adjust,” she said in November. “This team has already established chemistry and I'm just trying to find my place in it.”
That’s happening now, in a specialized role. As a shooter who once made a UCSB-record nine 3-pointers in a Big West tournament game, Porter is developing her own sweep spot with the Utes (8-0). Roberts once said Porter’s impact would eventually come, as “kind of slow boil.” And then it happened suddenly.
Getting extra playing time in a recent rout of Utah Valley, she made her first six 3-point tries and finished with 20 points in 15 minutes — after having totaled 17 points in the team’s first six games. In last Saturday’s win over BYU, Porter made two 3-pointers in eight minutes.
She's embracing that job description, and she hopes to establish herself similarly in the next phases of her life.
“God has a plan for her,” Porter's father said. “She's beginning to understand that.”
And that’s one point she won’t argue.