Michael Porter Jr. doesn’t guarantee a title run. A single talent can’t give frustrated fans peace of mind that a rocket ride to the top will happen.
But a star’s arrival can create optimism. Here’s what Porter’s commitment represents to a Missouri fan base beaten down by no-good, very-bad seasons: a possible turn from the dark into the light.
“I’m excited to come back home,” Porter told SEC Country’s Joe Mussatto on Tuesday. Porter lived in Columbia from 2010-16 when his father, Michael Porter Sr., served on the coaching staff of the Missouri women’s basketball team.
“I became very familiar with the area, and I’ve got a lot of friends there. So I’m just excited.”
Oh, wouldn’t a change of scenery be wonderful for all who have experienced misery in Missouri?
Lately, there was a bunch of bad news for the black and gold on the hardwood. The Tigers missed the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season. They saw former coach Frank Haith bolt for Tulsa. They saw an NCAA investigation take place. They saw Kim Anderson go 27-68 the past three campaigns with just eight regular-season SEC victories.
The moment has arrived for Missouri basketball to matter again.
Once upon a time, Mizzou had a proud program. Norm Stewart produced 634 victories with eight regular-season conference titles and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances from 1967-99. The Quin Snyder era had a messy end, but Snyder led the Tigers to four NCAA Tournament berths and an Elite Eight appearance in his first four seasons. Missouri enjoyed five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2009-13, highlighted by an Elite Eight run under Mike Anderson in 2009.
In fact, most who followed Missouri when it made its SEC move envisioned the Tigers becoming an instant factor in basketball while the school’s football program tried to build momentum against bigger, badder competition. Turns out, football became a point of pride as basketball plummeted.
Michael Porter Jr., Tigers’ top prospect
Porter’s commitment in itself doesn’t mean a heartbeat has returned for Missouri basketball. As the Naismith High School Player of the Year and the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 recruiting class by ESPN, Porter must back up the hype on the court. Promise without production leads to frustration among all who pictured big things.
But don’t underestimate optimism’s power.
It can offer warmth for a fan base left out in the cold. It can provide electricity after a buzz was missing for years. It can serve as a high and lift spirits that were trampled.
“It’s huge,” said Tramel Raggs, an editor for Rock M Nation, a popular Missouri website. “There were so many times when you would go to the games, and there were 4,000 or 5,000 people there. Sometimes, women’s games were louder and had more fans than men’s games. It got to the point where people were so fed up with Kim Anderson.
“This just put a whole new breath of fresh air in the program. People feel like there’s a chance that Missouri can be great again.”
That’s why Porter’s commitment represents more than a recruiting coup for new coach Cuonzo Martin. The player’s decision is a necessary victory for Missouri and its fans after so many defeats on and off the court in recent years.
There’s a Porter-palooza in progress at Mizzou. The older Porter joined Martin’s coaching staff, and younger brother Jontay, a 4-star prospect, could be a possibility for the Tigers. Jontay has another year of high school eligibility, but he’s the No. 32 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. He is the 14th best power forward prospect. Michael Porter Jr. is the No. 2 overall player for the class of 2017.
Questions to be answered
Time will show if this psychological triumph will lead to bigger wins in the future. The Martin era at Missouri begins with multiple questions: Can Martin make success on the recruiting trail translate to greater gains in the win column? Can he produce a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? Can he manage a player of Porter’s skill and allow this young talent to become all he can be?
The moment for those curiosities will come. If anything, South Carolina’s Final Four run creates urgency for Martin to capitalize on Porter’s presence at Mizzou Arena. Gamecocks coach Frank Martin showed that someone within the SEC other than Kentucky and Florida can break through in the Big Dance and create a March to remember.
Not long ago, the Gamecocks found themselves wandering through the same basketball desert that Missouri hopes to escape. South Carolina provided a path forward for the Tigers to follow.
There’s no reason why Missouri can’t stage a similar revival, especially with a player like Porter on campus.
Granted, no one should demand that the Tigers appear in the Final Four next season. But an NCAA Tournament berth should be the expectation. From there, if momentum for the program continues, Missouri fans should hope that Sweet 16 berths and Elite Eight appearances seem possible each year.
A call for action, not the acceptance of apathy, should come with the sight of Porter slipping on Mizzou black and gold.
“He has literally been around us and the program since he moved to Columbia in 2010,” former Missouri forward Laurence Bowers, who played for the Tigers from 2008-13, wrote in a text message to SEC Country. “Unbelievable talent, but he’s an even better person. The amount of loyalty that he showed by coming back home shouldn’t go unnoticed. I believe that he has already returned the excitement and the connection that the fans will have for the players from here on.
“I remember him and his brothers always being in the gym after our practices when they were young. I, in particular, always used to shoot around with him and Jontay in the practice gym. I really hope Jontay follows (to Missouri). They’re all like little brothers … to me until this day.”
For now, in this honeymoon phase, optimism is enough to lift starved Tigers fans after too many forgettable seasons. Porter’s commitment was like a lightning bolt that cut across a dark sky. If all goes well for Missouri, a cleansing rain will follow to wash away the pain of the recent past.
It’s about time the Tigers produced a memorable victory.
Porter’s commitment could mean many more will be on the way.