(AP) - Howard Porter's grace and power on the basketball court led Villanova to remarkable heights.
The drug addiction that followed an unsuccessful NBA career brought him crashing down, but a tale of redemption that allowed him to return to Villanova's good graces and help troubled adults in the Twin Cities has been derailed by his mysterious death.
Porter, one of the best players in Villanova basketball history, died Saturday after he was found severely beaten in an alley a week ago. He was 58.
It was a bizarre ending to an inspirational story.
Porter went missing on May 18 after leaving his St. Paul home. He was found without identification, bloodied and beaten in an alley, a day later. Authorities didn't know at the time that the man brought to the hospital as an unknown assault victim was Porter, and he remained hospitalized through his death.
Police are still trying to piece together exactly what happened to a man who had his share of problems, but emerged from a drug rehab program in Minnesota in 1989 and turned his life around.
They have no suspects and have not made any arrests, and are unaware if the attack had anything to do with his work as a probation officer for Ramsey County.
The shocking death has shaken the Villanova community.
"Howard provided so many Villanovans with thrills on the basketball court playing for coach (Jack) Kraft," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement released by the school. "Since his playing days ended, he has been an outstanding role model for our current players and coaching staff."
Porter grew up in Sarasota, Fla., leading his local high school to the state championship before a brilliant career at Villanova. From 1968-71, the 6-foot-8 Porter averaged 22.8 points and 14.8 rebounds and led the Wildcats to the 1971 NCAA title game, where they lost to UCLA.
He was voted the tournament's outstanding player, an honor later vacated because he had been dealing with an agent before the season ended. Villanova's 1971 runner-up finish also was vacated. The scandal tarnished his reputation in Philadelphia for a time, but the fences were eventually mended.
The school retired his No. 54 jersey in 1997 and Porter bonded with the 2006 team that played in Minneapolis during the NCAA tournament.
Wright raved about Porter's impact on the team during that run, and star guard Randy Foye forged a special relationship with the school's career rebounds leader once he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"The guy was a legend," Foye said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "I met him two or three times at Villanova, but our relationship really grew when I came to Minneapolis. He was just always there, always offering to help me out with anything I needed, if I had any questions about basketball or life in general."
Porter learned plenty of lessons during a life filled with ups and downs. He was drafted 32nd overall by the Chicago Bulls in 1971, but his NBA career never fulfilled the promise he showed in college. Porter also played for Detroit and New York, but he began using drugs when his career flamed out.
"I took a ride with the devil," Porter told the Star Tribune in a 2001 interview. "And the devil picked me up and rolled me for a while. But I always knew, deep down inside, I felt God wasn't through with me yet."
By 1985, he was out of money, addicted to cocaine and sleeping on the couch at his mother's house in Florida, the newspaper reported.
Once he completed a rehab program in Center City, Minn., Porter decided to stay in Minnesota. He became a probation officer for Ramsey County in 1995, where he supervised adults who had been released from prison or sentenced to probation.
He oversaw violent and nonviolent offenders, making sure they followed the law, as well as terms of their release.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)