The Michael Porter Jr. era might have lasted all of two minutes for Missouri.
On Tuesday, the Mizzou basketball team announced Porter would undergo back surgery that likely would cause him to miss the rest of the season.
According to a release from the team, Porter was scheduled to have a “microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs” on Tuesday in Dallas. The procedure has a three-to-four-month recovery time.
Porter started in Mizzou’s season-opening victory against Iowa State on Nov. 10. He played two minutes and scored his only two points of the season off a putback layup. He then asked coach Cuonzo Martin to take him out and Porter has missed the last three games.
Never miss a local story.
“I really appreciate the support of my family and the Mizzou Men’s Basketball program as I begin this process,” Porter said in a release. “I’m thankful for all the kind words and messages I’ve received from fans. Those mean a lot to me. I cannot wait to be completely healthy and playing the game I love, once again.”
Porter also posted a Bible verse, James 1:12, on his Instagram account: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Later Tuesday, Porter posted a photo of himself in a hospital gown with the caption: “Successful surgery! Thanks to Dr. Dossett.” Andrew Dossett is an orthopedic surgeon in Dallas who is a spine consultant for the NFL’s Cowboys, MLB’s Texas Rangers and the NHL’s Dallas Stars.
In the spring, Porter reported having back pain. He missed the Jordan Brand Classic in April because of a sore back and said he played the week earlier in the Nike Hoops Summit with the same issue.
“A red flag has been planted into his back,” one NBA scout told The Star of Porter, who had been projected as a top-five draft pick after his freshman season at Mizzou. Scouts cannot comment publicly about prospects their teams could draft.
“As long as everything checks out with the back, he should be fine — but to be determined.”
The microdiscectomy surgery gets rid of a herniated, protruded or extruded disc in a person’s spine that is pressing against the root nerve along the spine. The pressure on the root nerve can cause pain, numbness or weakness along a person’s leg.
A person who works in the Mizzou athletic department told The Star that Porter felt pain near his hip days before the Tigers’ season-opening game. After the Iowa State game, Martin said Porter had a leg injury.
The three-to-four-month timetable seemingly would allow for the possibility of action at the end of the season, perhaps for postseason play. But Porter’s return from this type of surgery would make that difficult, according to an orthopedic surgeon.
“With elite athletes because of the force they put on their spines and body in general, they have to put off any strenuous activity for at least three months,” Theodore Koreckij, a back and neck specialist at the Kansas City Orthopedic Institute, told The Star.
Rehabilitation after a microdiscectomy likely would be limited.
“Definitely not sports or anything that involves twisting,” Koreckij said. “Maybe bicycling but not swimming because of the twisting motion. The ability to stay cardiovascular fit is somewhat limited.”
But not all the news is discouraging.
“What’s in his favor, this carries the highest rate of return to play of ailments that the spine of athletes,” Koreckij said. “The majority return to the same performance level.”
In Missouri’s win over Wagner on Nov. 13, Porter wasn’t on the team’s bench and was said to be watching the game from the locker room, where it was easier for him to deal with the injury. He did not travel to Utah for the team’s first road game Nov. 16. Martin said after the team’s win over Emporia State on Monday that he wasn’t sure if Porter would travel with the team to Orlando, Fla., for the three-game Advocare Invitational, which starts on Thanksgiving.
“Our top priority as a program is the well-being of our student-athletes, so Michael beginning this process to be 100 percent healthy is important to all of us,” Martin said in Tuesday’s release. “Our focus has been on Michael’s well-being, just like every other player in our locker room. We will continue to work every day to build Mizzou Basketball into a program to be proud of.”
Porter originally committed to Washington in the summer of 2016, but reopened his recruitment in the spring after the Huskies fired coach Lorenzo Romar, who is Porter Jr.’s godfather. Romar had hired Michael Porter Sr., his longtime friend, to be an assistant coach on his staff the previous spring.
After Missouri fired Kim Anderson and hired Martin in March, speculation began that the Tigers new coach would bring on Porter Sr. to his staff, all but ensuring the commitments of Porter Jr. and his younger brother Jontay. Porter Jr. committed to Missouri on April 12, which started a wave of season-ticket sales.
Missouri added four-star recruits in Jeremiah Tilmon and Blake Harris shortly after Porter Jr.’s commitment, which gave the Tigers a top-five recruiting class. He got Jontay Porter to commit to the program and reclassify up a year to play with him. Expectations around the program were that it would break its NCAA Tournament drought, where the Tigers haven’t been since 2013.
Before the season, Porter Jr. was voted a preseason All-American and the SEC co-preseason player of the year and was being labeled as a possible No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Porter Jr. had also said throughout the preseason that he could return for a sophomore season if Missouri didn’t accomplish the goals he had in mind.
But while Porter Jr. could return to Mizzou next season and have four seasons of eligibility left, he would still have a chance to go high in the draft despite only playing just two minutes in one college game.
The Star’s Blair Kerkhoff and Aaron Reiss contributed to this report