Michael Porter Jr. entered the 2017 season as the beacon of hope for a tortured Missouri program, but just two minutes into his Tigers career, he went down with a lower back injury that required surgery and hasn't returned.
Because Porter, a 6-foot-10 star, entered the season as a projected top-5 pick, no one expected he'd return to the hardwood. Missouri, in fact, placed a recovery timeline that indicated he was likely done for the season. But all signs of late point to Porter making every effort possible to return, as he told reporters on Friday that he's not worried about his potential NBA Draft stock and is focused on returning to the team.
"If I could play today, I would play today," Porter said. "I'm not worried about re-injury. I'm not really worried about the risk. What I'm worried about is if it's good for our team if I come back. If it's tournament time and they said I'm ready to go, is that the best thing for our team? We're doing really well right now, and I think people lose sight of that."
Porter suffered the lower back injury on Nov. 10 against Iowa State, and subsequently underwent back surgery to repair damage to the L3-L4 spinal discs. His projected recovery, at the time, was said to take approximately 3 to 4 months.
But Porter is aggressively challenging that timeline.
"I'm hoping that next week, the doctors tell me I'm ready to start full on practicing," Porter said. "That's what I'm hoping for. I don't know if that's what I'll hear."
Earlier this week, Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin was hesitant to rule Porter out for the season and said he wouldn't be surprised if he did eventually return.
Time will tell if the former five-star prospect can get cleared in time to make an impact for the Tigers this season – but in Columbia, Missouri, there is hope and optimism surrounding the program that they'll be NCAA Tournament bound, with their projected lottery pick leading the way into March.