The saga continues in Columbia, Missouri.
Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr., whose college career has been held to just two minutes due to injury, spoke to local media during a men’s basketball press conference Tuesday for the first time since the 2017-18 season tipped off in November.
The 19-year-old has only given one public interview since Mizzou announced he would miss 3-4 months following surgery of his L3-L4 spinal discs, making his attendance at Tuesday’s media day somewhat significant. His only other interview since being injured occurred during the ESPN broadcast of December’s Braggin’ Rights contest versus Illinois. ESPN commentators Jordan Bernfield and Tom Crean never addressed what’s been on the minds of Missouri fans all year – ‘Will MPJ be healthy enough to make a return in the black and gold this season?’.
PowerMizzou publisher Gabe DeArmond, however, was not shy in asking the question when Porter Jr. and freshman center Jeremiah Tilmon met with the media Tuesday morning.
“Rehab is going great. I’m getting stronger every day. Right now it’s too early to tell,” Porter said.
“Everybody’s different with this injury, their recovery time. So I’m doing everything I can to recover as quick as I can. I’ll feel 100 percent before my back really is 100 percent. Eventually I’ll be 150 percent because I’ll be playing without the pain and limitations I had before.”
At 6′ 10″, Porter Jr. is ranked number 1 in the high school Class of 2017 according to Rivals.com. Porter was named a McDonald’s All-American in high school and is widely regarded as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft. And if that weren’t impressive enough, the kid won the one-on-one tournament at Steph Curry’s SC30 Select camp…twice. TWICE! He won the 1v1 tournament at what is considered the elite camp for high school prospects back-to-back years. One look at film of this guy really says it all.
Folks, I am rambling about this young man and his appearance at a seemingly routine press conference because this is not a kind of player Missouri lands often. It took a strange series of events, in fact, for Porter Jr. to suit up with the Tigers at all. But suit up he did, against the Iowa State Cyclones at Mizzou Arena on November 10, 2017. And within two minutes, it appeared that it would all be over.
The freshman took a seat shortly after scoring his first two points as a Tiger. Porter Jr. appeared to be hampering a knee injury, as he rocked back and forward on the Missouri bench for the remainder of the first half. He wouldn’t return. Panic sets in.
The hoop squad would go on to secure its first win of the season, but fans (including this writer) had already feared the worst for what Porter Jr.’s absence meant for the rest of the season.
In the days immediately following the season opener in Columbia, speculation was abound without an official announcement from the University. It was a leg injury. No, wait, it’s a hip injury. Now it’s a back injury?
Eventually, Mizzou fans got their answer. The talented Porter Jr. would likely miss the rest of the season, and the situation would soon be referred to by some as “the most Mizzou thing ever”.
All hope is lost….but does it have to be?
Despite MPJ’s cautious responses to the media on Tuesday, hints of a possible return have come to surface from different sources since the announcement of the injury.
First there was Porter himself — in the form of an Instagram Story post.
Well….isn’t this interesting?
The post was shared by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dave Matter in late November before being removed from Porter’s Instagram Story. Surely, MPJ wasn’t taking a shot at the MU training staff, but rather hinting that his rehab is progressing better than expected.
But then there was the interview with famed sports surgeon Dr. Rick Lehman, who has treated athletes including Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Cam Newton, during the Press Box with Frank Cusumano (a St. Louis sports-talk radio show).
When asked if Porter would be ready to play by the Braggin’ Rights game on December 23, Lehman bluntly stated “No. But I think he’ll be back in 4 weeks, and that’s ‘more than just a guess’.”
Okay, now I’m paying attention. It should be noted that Dr. Rick has had no involvement in treating Porter Jr., but his comments do carry some weight in the sports medicine world. Could he actually play again this season and help solidify the young Missouri team’s bid for a NCAA tournament?
One more clue was left behind via a New Year’s post.
In another tease, Porter Jr. concluded his post with two emoji’s with the text “back” and “soon”. Also note the choice in photo. Is he hinting that he may play in the Missouri uniform again? Not sure. Is it healthy to psycho-analyze the words of a 19-year old in the form of a social media post? Probably not. But, until a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are stated, Missouri fans will continue to wonder as the Tigers open SEC play vs. South Carolina January 3 at 8 p.m.
It’s tough. I just have to be patient. My time is coming. I just can’t rush it.