Michael Porter Jr.’s college basketball career might not be remembered for much, but it seems certain he will go down in history as the only McDonald’s All-American to end up with as many college choices as career points.
Porter played just two minutes for Missouri in its season-opening victory against Iowa State earlier this month, and he scored a single basket. And now he is almost certain to miss all that remains of the 2017-18 season because of back surgery that will be required to repair an injury that limited his appearance that night and kept him off the court — and off the Tigers' bench — ever since.
Although it remains possible Porter could decide return to Mizzou for his sophomore academic year and freshman basketball season — and Porter did suggest at times he was not a certain one-and-done prospect — it seems more likely an injury scare such as this will lead him to enter the 2018 draft and prepare to play in the NBA.
It figures to be a curious end to one of the more convoluted recruiting sagas in recent years. Porter spent his formative years in Columbia, Mo., as his father, Michael Sr., served as an assistant with the Mizzou women’s team.
After Michael’s transcendent talent became apparent, Lorenzo Romar hired the elder Porter as an assistant coach with the Washington Huskies (at an annual salary of $300,000) and Michael Jr. committed to UW. But last season was disastrous for the program, and Romar was fired. Michael Sr. was available to be hired by new Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin to serve as an assistant with the Tigers (on a three-year contract at an annual salary that averages out to $375,000). Michael Jr. committed to Missouri, enrolled, practiced, promoted the program through media interviews that helped generate extraordinary enthusiasm about the coming season – and now this.
“We are forever Charlie Brown, and Lucy is forever taking the ball away. That is about as apt as I can think of,” Paul Blackman, a board member of the Tiger Club of Kansas City, told Sporting News. “I don’t like to engage in pity parties, though.
“I feel sad for him. I wish him the best. I think all of our fans do. It’s not about us. It’s just something that happens. Injuries happen.”
Missouri was 8-24 last year and won just two Southeastern Conference games. It was the third consecutive season of 10 or fewer victories, an astonishing run of failure for a program that once was one of college basketball’s most consistent winners.
The hiring of Martin in the spring injected some optimism into the fan base, and his successful pursuit of the Porters energized Tigers fans like they had not been in almost a decade. This season’s opener, Porter’s nominal debut, drew a capacity crowd of 15,061 to Mizzou Arena. Last year it was so grim the school stopped reporting turnstile count to record attendance, instead choosing to announce tickets sold. There still were more than 5,000 unsold on average.
On that first night, Porter made only that cameo before shutting it down for the rest of the game. He was not on the bench for the second game, opting to get treatment in the locker room while Missouri took care of Wagner. He did not make the trip to Utah for a loss last Thursday. And then, Monday night, he was away seeing a specialist as the Tigers struggled to defeat Division II Emporia State.
So those who follow the Tigers weren’t totally stunned when Tuesday’s news arrived.
“I conditioned myself to where nothing was going to shock me,” said Steven St. John, co-host of the Border Patrol morning program on WHB-AM in Kansas City. “I just had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that it was going to be the worst-case scenario … I just had a bad feeling it was going to be serious.”
St. John and Blackman both believe the program has been improved just for Porter’s presence, aware it helped bring in Jontay Porter (Michael’s brother, a 6-11 freshman averaging 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds) and classmate Jeremiah Tillmon (a four-star prospect averaging 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds).
“Consider where the team was last year, and where it is now, I still think once the shock of this passes — I still think there’s a lot to be excited about with the direction of Missouri basketball,” St. John said.
Those who’ve been Tigers fans a long time remember the Fifth Down game, when Colorado’s football squad was mistakenly granted an extra play that helped the Buffs beat Mizzou by a 33-31 score in 1990. And they remember when Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast to beat the Tigers in the final seconds of a 1995 NCAA Tournament second-round game. And the play from 1997 they call the “Flea Kicker,” when Nebraska scored on a deflected pass on the game’s final play — a pass deflected off the intended receiver’s foot, no less — to tie the Tigers and force overtime, where the Huskers won.
That’s quite a history.
This is one more chapter.
“The kid’s going to have a bright future, hopefully. I’m grateful he chose to come to Mizzou,” Blackman said. “He’s been a great representative, and I wish him well. Our fan base, because we’ve had a lot of these things … We got Mizzou’d.”