Michael Porter Jr. formally introduced himself to the basketball world three winters ago.
The first ones to get the invite were members of the Raytown South basketball team, who Porter dunked on the night of Dec. 29, 2014 after taking off from just inside the free-throw line.
Everyone else found out the following day when Porter, then a 15-year-old sophomore at Father Tolton High School in Columbia, posted a video of the dunk, which was given to him by a stranger and earned him SportsCenter’s top play for the evening. To this date the Vine of the dunk has been played over 20 million times.
But it’s not just Porter’s dunking that has put him in the center of Missouri basketball’s renaissance.
The 6-foot-10 freshman has been raising scouts’ eyebrows for years for having one of the best all-around games for his age, which sometimes falls under-the-radar because of his eye-popping dunks.
“He’s very intriguing physically,” said one scout for an NBA team. “He’s 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan. He can play the 3 and the 4. He’s a natural ball handler. He’s a total alpha-male. He’s someone who brings it every time. Is extremely competitive. Those are certain qualities not all these guys have.”
Porter’s ability to lead a team offensively and hurt opponents in different ways is what has Missouri fans and professional scouts salivating — and could give “stomach aches” to opposing Southeastern Conference coaches, like Florida’s Mike White described Wednesday.
Porter’s teammate Kevin Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate, compared Porter’s scoring ability to Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, a comparison that has followed Porter since he was a high school freshman.
The NBA scout said pro teams want to see Porter take his outside shooting and jump shot to the next level at Missouri. Puryear said that likely won’t be a problem.
“I would be surprised if he didn’t shoot high 40s, mid-to-high 40s this year from the three,” Puryear said. “He just makes it look so easy. Double teams, triple teams, he’s shooting over the top of it, just making it effortless.”
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin has been preparing Porter for multiple offensive scenarios this season because he expects him to get double-teamed and possibly even triple-teamed on some occasions.
Porter has been known to have a strong IQ for his age, which has stemmed from both his parents playing college basketball and his aunt, Robin Pingeton, coaching the Missouri women’s basketball team. Porter thinks his decision-making and facilitating have become the most-improved aspects of his game because he knows he can’t do it all.
Martin is impressed with how Porter has handled situations with multiple defenders because he opens things up for his teammates.
“He made tremendous decisions out of the double (team) because, again, he’s 6-10,” Martin said. “He can pass the ball. He puts pressure on the defense because he’s looking to score the ball every time down. That’s what makes him a threat within himself.”
Porter has the physical tools to defend both forward positions and Martin, who is known as a defense-oriented coach, loves the way his star player prides himself on being a good defender.
Martin, who has coached top freshmen before at California in Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, said Porter’s ability to handle his business off-the-court is just as impressive as his play on it.
“He’s been through it before,” he said. “It’s not like he’s the No. 1 player and it happened two weeks ago. He’s had a chance to go through it. Obviously this is a different level when you get to this level. But he’s done a good job with it.”