It’s been 11 months since Michael Porter Jr. committed to Missouri, spurning Washington and sending Tigers fans into nearly a year of wide-ranging, ever-changing emotions.
Because of a back injury sustained in November, only now might fans get to experience what they’ve longed for since March 24, 2017: Porter leading the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament.
In those 11 months, Porter has participated in a handful of practices — at least two in the last week — and a total of 2 game minutes. If Porter does return against Vanderbilt on Tuesday night, as has been speculated, the hype train that follows will dominate college basketball.
But this is your warning: Don’t be on board when it crashes.
It would be a tall task to introduce Porter to the lineup this late in the season and expect any measure of success. With only two regular season games remaining, it’s not that time is running low — it’s already out. The final buzzer has sounded, and people are already on the highway heading back home.
Consider this: When Kentucky finally inserted 5-star freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt into its rotation on Jan. 16 following his recovery from a foot injury, the Wildcats struggled to adapt. They lost six of their first nine games while Vanderbilt found his role: an elite rebounder who can get to the basket.
Now winners of three straight, Kentucky looks to be in a good spot heading into the postseason. But the growing pains were so bad, coach John Calipari speculated his team might lose its last eight regular season games.
Based on recruiting rankings, Porter is probably a better player than Vanderbilt, which could help ease some of the early chemistry issues. But if the Tigers are asked to deal with a veteran team such as Butler, as Joe Lunardi projected Monday?
Good luck, Cuonzo Martin.
Missouri is struggling as March grows near. The Tigers have lost three straight ugly games: at rebuilding LSU, vs coach-less Ole Miss and a 21-point drubbing at Kentucky.
But with as few as four games remaining in Missouri’s season, would Porter’s presence make a difference?
From an individual standpoint, it seems foolish for him to try. Even without any collegiate tape, Porter is projected as a high lottery pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and no one would dock him for sitting out and protecting his future interests.
Conventional wisdom is as follows: Why risk further injury playing for free when you’re set up for a multimillion-dollar payday in a few months?
But, it’s possible Porter’s family ties could bring him back to Missouri next season.
Porter’s younger brother, Jontay, is also a freshman on the team, and this figures to be their last chance to play together. His father, Michael Porter Sr., is an assistant on Martin’s staff.
A potential March Madness run alongside his father and brother could be too special to pass up, assuming he has confidence the injury has completely healed.
But far more likely is the inevitable failure of this team because of a lack of time to gel, and Porter moving on to the NBA.
But that’s the reality Missouri faces.