University of Missouri

Inside Michael Porter Jr.’s long wait at the NBA Draft

Michael Porter Jr. drafted by Nuggets

Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. dropped to the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday June 21, 2018 as questions about his back lingered.
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Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. dropped to the No. 14 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday June 21, 2018 as questions about his back lingered.

As NBA TV host Rick Kamla’s voice rang throughout the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Thursday night, the most touted recruit in Missouri’s history slowly rose from his seat, before dropping into his father’s arms.

“The wait is over for Michael Porter Jr.,” Kamla said.

Porter’s draft night went a lot different from how he first envisioned it. He was one of the last green-room invites to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, having fallen to the Denver Nuggets with the No. 14 pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft. For Porter, this night capped a 15-month journey that took plenty of twist and turns.

After committing to Missouri in March 2017, reviving a dormant MU basketball program, Porter became the Tigers’ savior. Then he was barely a Tiger at all. He played just 2 minutes in Mizzou’s season-opener before deciding to undergo back surgery, which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season. Porter wanted to leave a legacy at Mizzou, but he ultimately played just three collegiate games, two of which were losses.

He still appeared poised to be a top-10 pick heading into Thursday. Most pundits reported that the No. 7 pick, belonging to the Chicago Bulls, was Porter’s floor.

As it went, Porter became the first Missouri player to go in the first round since DeMarre Carroll went No. 27 overall in the 2009 NBA Draft, and he is the highest Tiger taken since Kareem Rush (No. 20 overall) in 2002. But had Porter been able to enter the draft out of high school, he would have had a chance to go first overall.

For months, questions about Porter’s durability and character surrounded him as he trained in Chicago leading up to the draft. Porter also took a lot of questions about his vegan diet. Such questions slightly surprised him since NBA stars Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard are on similar diets.

“I think it’s really a secret that a lot of people are missing out on,” he said on Wednesday at a media session at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. “It’s hard to do. It’s not for everybody.”

Then the forward stepped off the platform on Wednesday and hopped in an elevator to go up a floor for more meetings with league executives. In between sessions, Porter leaned against a wall on the third floor of the midtown Manhattan hotel and removed his blue bomber jacket. Over the course of the half-hour interview session, he repeatedly answered questions about his health.

A week ago, a hip spasm led him to cancel a second scheduled pro-day. That led to even more injury concerns.

“Once one team gets scared, a lot of them get scared,” he said Thursday during his first press conference as a Nugget. “And that's what caused the drop.”

Porter’s agent, Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports, started out at Porter's table seated across from him at the draft. But by the time the Knicks used the No. 9 pick on Kentucky’s Kevin Knox — another long shooter who plays on the wing —Bartelstein was sitting next to Porter, patting him while the forward dropped his head.

Knicks fans had been chanting Porter’s name for two picks after the Chicago Bulls, a team many thought would select Porter, picked Duke’s Wendell Carter with the No. 7 pick.

“I was feeling bad,” Porter said of fans cheering for him instead of Knox, who had taken an official visit to Missouri when selecting a college to attend. “That's my guy, and I'm happy for him. When a kid gets drafted, I'm looking at them and I'm feeling joy, too, because their dreams are coming true, too.”

Despite Porter barely playing for the Tigers, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin called Porter’s night a great one for Mizzou. He was proud of how Porter kept his composure at the table while cameras zoomed in on him and his dropping draft stock became the talk of the draft.

Martin said Porter can hang his hat on the fact his talent wasn’t the reason why he dropped. He believed Porter’s fall to the edge of the lottery would become “more fuel to his fire.”

Porter chooses his words carefully when talking about Missouri, as he knows fans have mixed feelings about his short time there. He’s happy his brief college career was still able to positively affect the program, but he wishes he would have played more for the Tigers.

“It wasn’t what I expected,” Porter said. “I expected to turn college basketball upside down like a lot of these other guys.”

The other guys he was referring to — Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton (No. 1 pick in the draft ), Duke’s Marvin Bagley III (No. 2) and Oklahoma’s Trae Young (No. 5) — all went ahead of Porter in the draft. For the first time in a long time, Porter is looking up at his peers.

It’s unclear when Porter will play again. Rumors swirled throughout the week that Porter could miss the entire 2018-19 regular season, a cautious approach to ensure he is fully healthy. He said the Nuggets and Bartelstein will decide the next time he plays, whether that’s the upcoming summer-league session, the regular season or more than a year from now.

“When you get to the NBA it’s a business,” he said. “And that could be up to the (Nuggets).”

As he strutted through the Barclays Center donning a Nuggets hat shortly after being taken, Porter wore a smile while NBA personnel directed him all over the arena. His three-month long roller-coaster ride had finally come to an end.

His custom blue suit gleamed inside, where Porter had the word “Greatness” pinned. But the chip on his shoulder was obvious.

“I can’t wait to prove a lot of people wrong,” he said.

And with that he stepped back out onto the arena floor, ready to face his doubters.

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