Missouri freshman phenom Michael Porter Jr. said Friday he is optimistic his doctor will fully clear him to return to basketball practice soon.
Porter said he didn’t know exactly when he’ll meet with his doctor but expected it would be within the next week or two. He said he last met with his doctor in early January and was told his next appointment would be in six weeks, which would be next week.
“To me with how I feel right now, I think there is a good chance,” Porter said about whether he will play again this season. “I think the doctor is going to be amazed at my progress.”
Porter played two minutes in Missouri’s season-opening win over Iowa State on Nov. 10 and left the game after scoring on a putback layup and feeling discomfort in his leg and hip. Eleven days later, the program announced that Porter would likely miss the season after undergoing a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs and estimated his recovery time at three to four months.
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But Porter opened the possibility of a return shortly after the procedure. Before the Tigers’ game against West Virginia in the Advocare Invitational championship game on Nov. 26, Porter made an Instagram post that appeared to be from his living room that said “just letting y’all know whoever said it was going to take 3-4 months to recover lied.”
Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin said after the team’s win over Mississippi on Wednesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Porter were to play before the end of the season, which was a significant development in the 6-foot-10 forward’s rehab. Martin added that Porter had started working out with the team’s strength and conditioning coach Nicodemus Christopher. Porter said he’s running and jumping in his rehab with Christopher.
Martin said on Friday that there is no hard date for Porter to return by and that a decision will be made when it has to.
“The first thing is you try to do is what’s important or what’s best,” Martin said. “What’s best is not always ideal for everybody. We’ll make that decision and decide what’s best whenever that time presents itself. I do think that the one thing that makes him good is he has a competitive spirit. He wants to play. He wants to compete. He wants to be on the floor. But you have to take all facts into consideration when you’re dealing with this.”
Despite not playing for three months, Martin isn’t worried about Porter’s play when he gets back because of his talent. He added that Porter would have to practice before appearing in a game.
“He might be one of the few guys, I think, on the high school level, that his offense becomes his defense,” Martin said. “He puts so much pressure on you that way. Now teams will try to, I imagine, make him defend. But he’s long and athletic. It’s not as if he was a bad defender. If anything the fatigue part, the banging when he gets exhausted. But his offense will put pressure on other teams. So that becomes his defense.”
Porter said Friday he’s working out and feeling great and isn’t worried about re-injuring his back should he return. Porter said if he does return, he would like to play in games before the postseason starts.
He said he’s taking a lot of mental notes during games about the Tigers’ offensive plays and what they do on defense so that he can be ready.
Porter’s return would give the Tigers, who were already in good shape to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2013, an even more dangerous lineup heading into March. Despite the absence of its best player, Mizzou is tied for fourth in the Southeastern Conference standings at 6-5 and is 16-8 overall.
Porter said he thought the team’s play without him was being overlooked and that his main concern is whether his return would be in the team’s best interest.
“Is it good for our team if I come back?” he said. “Because if it was tournament time and they said I was ready to go, is that the best thing for our team?”
In the absence of Porter, Missouri has been fueled by the strong play of graduate transfer Kassius Robertson and Porter’s younger brother Jontay, who is also a freshman.
Porter Jr. was at the top of NBA mock drafts at the beginning of the season but has fallen because of the strong play of fellow freshmen Marvin Bagley of Duke, Deandre Ayton of Arizona, Mohamed Bamba of Texas and Oklahoma’s Trae Young, who is a close friend of Porter Jr’s. DraftExpress projects Porter Jr. going at No. 6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Porter Jr.’s return would take an offensive burden off of Robertson and his younger brother and would add a preseason All-American to a team that is down to nine healthy players after freshmen guards C.J Roberts and Blake Harris transferred and walk-on forward Adam Wolf tore his ACL. Junior point guard Terrence Phillips is suspended indefinitely while he is under Title IX investigation.
If he returns, Porter Jr. said he would give his team another reliable ball-handler, a skill that the Tigers are short on currently.
“I’m just a kid who loves basketball,” said Porter, who reiterated no decision has been made whether he will return to game action this season. “If I could play today, I’d play today.”