Mizzou basketball coach Cuonzo Martin said Friday that star freshman Michael Porter Jr. won’t be able to receive clearance to practice until at least next Thursday, when he meets with his doctor in Dallas.
Porter has missed all but two minutes of the season after having back surgery in Dallas in November.
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“We’ll know more after that meeting, next Thursday,” Martin said.
At the very least, Mizzou will continue to play without Porter for its next two games, Saturday at LSU and Tuesday at home against Mississippi.
The Tigers play a week from Saturday at Kentucky, after Porter’s appointment with his doctor, but Martin has said the freshman will need to practice before participating in game action. Although Porter said he has been learning while watching from the bench, Martin believes Porter will need time to understand plays.
“It’s one thing to see it from afar,” Martin said. “But to go through it live and to see how you fit in — I think that is the most important thing.”
Martin also believes Porter will need time to get back in shape, if doctors clear him to practice and play.
“There’s no point in playing a guy who gives you five minutes a game,” Martin said. “There’s no point in that. He’s not built to play five minutes a game. He’s a guy who is a ballplayer. You have to put him in a position to be successful.”
The freshman forward said last week that he felt there was a “good chance” he would return to play for MU this season. He thought his doctors would be “amazed” at his progress. He has already been participating in individual workouts with the basketball program’s strength and conditioning coach, Nicodemus Christopher.
Mizzou has just five regular-season games remaining, and Porter said he would like to play in some of them to prepare for the postseason. Missouri, 18-8 overall and 8-5 in conference, seems primed to make its first NCAA tournament in five seasons regardless of whether Porter plays for the Tigers. So these final regular-season games would be low-risk opportunities for him to readjust to the pace and physicality of college basketball.
“Because if it was tournament time and they said I was ready to go, is that the best thing for our team?” Porter said last week.
Martin was reticent last week when asked whether there was a date he would need Porter to be ready by in order to have him play.
“What’s best is not always ideal for everybody,” Martin said. “I’ll make that decision. We’ll make that decision and decide what’s best whenever that time presents itself, whatever that is.”
Missouri has forged its own identity without the star freshman.
Graduate transfer Kassius Robertson, who has won two consecutive SEC player of the week honors, has become the team’s leader and a contender for the conference’s player of the year award. Martin said Friday he is not sure that would have happened had Porter played.
So practice time would be key in helping Martin figure out what lineups work best with Porter.
“It has to be a case of Mike fitting in with that,” Martin said. “It’s not the team fitting in with Mike … because that train is already rolling.”
Without Porter, one of the preseason SEC players of the year, Mizzou has had to rely on defense to win. Point guard Jordan Geist said that won’t change even if Porter returns.
This team’s absolute potential would change, though — if Porter returns at full health.
“The possibilities,” Robertson said, “are endless.”