College basketball was robbed of one of its best and most interesting storylines, and perhaps its most promising player Tuesday.
That's to say nothing of what Missouri's program and its fans are coming to terms with. You couldn't blame Tigers honks if they're taking to some Thanksgiving-style stress-eating two days early.
Missouri announced the wholly unexpected Tuesday when it dropped a bombshell press release that revealed Michael Porter Jr.'s was anything but. He needs back surgery, which means he's out for 3-4 months. Porter (for some) was the best player in the class of 2017 and (for most) someone in the thick of the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, could well have his college career end with this surreal stat line:
- Points: 2
- Rebounds: 2
- Assists: 0
- Blocks: 0
- Steals: 0
- Minutes played: 2
A college career that lasts two minutes. It might be unprecedented. Think about it. Has any other player in Division I ever started their first game, left two minutes in ... never to return? Porter could be a the wrong kind of record-setter. It's a depressing legacy, but now looks like it will be the likely one for Porter as a Tiger. He's talked previously, seemingly earnestly, about staying more than one year at Mizzou. But when you're considered -- pre-injury -- to be a top-three lock of an NBA pick, how do you return to play for free?
How could you return to play for free after this?
Porter's then-nondescript affliction at the start of the Tigers' season-opener vs. Iowa State on Nov. 10 has turned into one of the biggest twists we'll see in what's sure to be an eventful season on and off the floor. (The sport sure could use some good news. Been hard to point to much of it over the past two months.)
And it's not just that Porter's in need of surgery. The kind of surgery that's required was a plot twist to its own. Initially the understanding was that it was a hip problem. Then it moved down to a leg issue. Now it's crept up from behind. The 19-year-old went under the knife in Dallas on Tuesday to get his back fixed. Microdiscectomy is the technical term. Missouri revealed the specific issue plaguing Porter -- the thing that kept him from sitting on the team bench, the source of the discomfort which prevented him from flying on the team plane -- was impairment of the L3 and L4 discs in his spine. Back issues are always troubling.
Best-case scenario is a three-month push to full recovery. That puts the target date at Feb. 21. It's possible that Porter's season isn't over, that his Missouri career isn't done, but the question will become: Will he want to play? More poignantly: Will he be advised, or allowed, to play? His father is on the staff.
But his brother's on the roster too. And Jontay Porter reclassified, first and foremost, to play with his big brother.
Yet, by Missouri's own admission, the surgery will "likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season."
"I really appreciate the support of my family and the Mizzou Men's Basketball program as I begin this process," Porter said in Missouri's statement. "I'm thankful for all the kind words and messages I've received from fans. Those mean a lot to me. I cannot wait to be completely healthy and playing the game I love, once again."
No mention of playing for the Tigers. Mizzou fans, I truly feel for you. There's no other way to put this then: It absolutely sucks. Porter was to be the savior, the once-in-a-lifetime recruit who was going to propel Missouri back to its first NCAA Tournament since 2013. To become legendary locally even if that meant only playing for one season. Tigers fans, who pull for arguably the best program to never make a Final Four, will find it difficult not to scream skyward. Why can't we have nice things, etc.
For college basketball, the sport's currency in commentary of the greater sports landscape has come to rely, in some portion, by big-name freshmen. The sport's still got a good number of them this season (Marvin Bagley III at Duke, DeAndre Ayton at Arizona, Kevin Knox at Kentucky, Jaren Jackson at Michigan State, Mo Bamba at Texas), but Porter was the only one of those players truly tasked with turning a program 180 degrees.
Then there's the odd pattern that's taken shape when it comes to potential No. 1 picks choosing to play for non-top-25 programs. For the third straight season a non-traditional landing spot for a projected No. 1 pick winds up with an ugly outcome.
Thecontinues to look like one big mistake. (Confirmed all the more by Simmons' continual admissions that he felt going to LSU was a waste of time.)
Markelle Fultz flourished in anonymity in the Pacific Northwest, piling up points, boards and dimes at Washington. But he failed to help that team get 10 wins. Porter was committed to play for Washington prior to Lorenzo Romar getting fired. Now Washington's decision to terminate Romar has this weird chaos theory outcome with Missouri taking the brunt of the butterfly-wing flap from last March.
It's an unfortunate but undeniable trend that's taken shape. Even if conditions for Simmons, Fultz and Porter aren't connected, you can count on these events having ripple effects on the recruiting trail.
Have to note that Porter could eventually not be in the same company as Simmons and Fultz because his road to being the No. 1 pick now has a mountain of an obstacle blocking his way. If he's truly played his only two minutes in a college uniform, he'll be evaluated against Bagley and Ayton, both of whom will have the benefit of 30-plus games of college experience and visual evidence (provided they also avoid injury) of how good or great they are against D-I competition.
Most importantly for Porter, he's got to get healthy and not worry about draft position right now. Regardless of where he goes, if he's healthy and free of back agony after this, he'll have a fantastic shot at a fruitful NBA career. Few players I've seen in the past seven years on the summer circuit have looked so NBA-made as him. (Injury-plagued Harry Giles comes to mind as someone in that same mold.) Now Porter will be reduced to a cheerleader on the bench -- whenever he's able to sit on it.
The Tigers' season isn't done, all hope isn't lost, but the scope has been altered significantly. Expectations of making the NCAA Tournament have been lowered. Without Porter the team was non-competitive in a 95-77 loss last week to just-OK Utah, then managed to beat Division II Emporia State by only five points on Monday night.
Tigers fans have already fretted over that, but now they also get doused with the cruel conjecture of wondering what could have been. College basketball, too, because more than any other major American sport it can provide the hype for an elite talent but then allow for heartbreak and mystery to linger forever. Michael Porter Jr. was supposed to be an all-time origin story at Missouri. Now he's probably bound to be reduced to a myth at the college level.