Michael Porter Jr., Missouri's would-be superstar, we hardly knew you
Freshman's career spanned one regular-season game, an SEC tournament loss and Friday's NCAA Tournament defeat
As a University of Missouri graduate and sports fan, I am admittedly used to not having the nice things in life. We lose, and we do it in the most painful way possible:
The fifth down against Colorado in 1990, the Norfolk State upset in 2012, the coast-to-coast Tyus Edney buzzer-beater in 1995, the "Flea Kicker" in 1997 against Nebraska. (I was in the stands at Faurot Field, a college freshman, for that last one.)
So I don't know why I was so excited coming into this college basketball season. We had one of the top recruits in college basketball, a silky smooth mini-Kevin Durant named Michael Porter Jr., and his kid brother too. Surely things would break our way. I mean, the Chicago Cubs won a World Series not long ago. Anything can happen in sports.
On opening night, Porter played two minutes against Iowa State and left with an injury.
He was not to return until five months later, during the SEC tournament in St. Louis. I went there for it, and I was pumped: The anointed one had returned. Certainly good things were about to come our way.
Porter made five of 17 shots for 12 points in his lone SEC tournament game, and Missouri lost to a lesser Georgia team whose coach would be fired a couple days later.
But still: You must have faith! What is fanhood if not blind? And so, on Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed, I got excited again.
I texted my best friend since our days in Missouri's journalism school: "Great draw for Mizzou." Such a great draw -- against an unremarkable Florida State team, and then against a top-seeded Xavier team that was, in my flawed opinion, the weakest of the one seeds -- that I penciled Mizzou right into my Sweet 16. (In my confidence, I went to the other side of the bracket and had our archrival, Kansas, lose in the second round.)
What is it they say is the definition of insanity? "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Yep.
On Friday night, in the final game of the first round of 2018's NCAA Tournament, my Missouri Tigers lost handily to that unremarkable Florida State team, 67-54. Porter, who looked understandably winded for much of the game, made only 4 of his 12 shots, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
His was not a memorable collegiate career. He played those two minutes against Iowa State in the opener. Then he played two full games in March, both losses. In between was speculation about his injury and cryptic Instagram posts about his return. The best natural scorer in college basketball (that's NBA scouts talking, not just me) took 30 shots on the season, and he made 10 of them. And it'll surely be his only season for Missouri, as Porter is a certain mid- to high-lottery pick in June's NBA draft.
It was not a memorable collegiate career, but it was very much a career that's perfectly in line with the history of Mizzou athletics: A story of high hopes, always dashed.
I don't blame Porter; the young man had a serious back surgery that derailed his season, and he wanted to be overly cautious with his return. Plenty of people thought it was foolish in the first place to risk any of his future NBA millions on the possibility of getting hurt for a few college games. If anything, I respect the young man for deciding to give it a go.
I blame myself. For believing.
"One thing I said when people ask about Mike, I say if he scored 30 points tonight, zero points, five points, he'll be a better player a month from now," Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said afterward. "That's just what it is, when you're coming off of injuries, getting the rust off your body, getting the flow of games, getting the flow of situations."
I kept telling people how Porter totally, absolutely had it in him to go off for 30 points apiece in the first two rounds of the tournament. And it's true: He did. But not in his second game back after the surgery.
And so ends one of the strangest collegiate careers in recent memory, a story of a young man with so much talent that we barely got to glimpse at the collegiate level.
It's a bizarre story. And it's just so perfectly Mizzou.
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