I went to Texas in October 2006 to spend some time with, and report a story on, a tall and gifted basketball played named Kevin Durant. And what I remember most from those few days, besides Durant ordering crab legs for lunch once I assured him I was paying, is then-strength coach Todd Wright telling me he'd already nicknamed the freshman star, who was still a month away from playing his first college game.
Because, as Wright explained, each time Durant was in the gym, on the court, he'd do something that made you stop and go "What the ..." Simply put, they'd never seen anything like him. And though it was clear from the jump that Durant probably wouldn't be the No. 1 pick in the subsequent NBA Draft because classmate Greg Oden was widely regarded as a franchise-changing big, it was already obvious that Durant was special and a possible Player of the Year candidate.
Which brings me to Michael Porter Jr.
He's arguably the most gifted long and skilled wing -- think 6-foot-9 and up -- to enter college since Durant exited college a decade ago. And, like Durant once did, Porter is already wowing folks in workouts only weeks after moving to campus. His nickname isn't WTF. But it could be.
I have Porter projected as the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NBA Draft and feel comfortable with that projection. But, just to make sure, I asked first-year Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin if he believes he's enrolled the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NBA Draft.
"Without a doubt," Martin answered. "With his skill package at a legitimate 6-10 ... you'd be hard-pressed to find somebody better for the first pick in the draft because he can do so many things. His game will transition from Day 1. And he's already 212 pounds of solid muscle. So, yeah, I could see it."
Porter, of course, is the prize of a top-10 recruiting class that Martin assembled within months of leaving California for Missouri -- and he's the main reason Mizzou fans are legitimately excited about next basketball season despite the program going 8-46 in SEC games the past three years. The removal of Kim Anderson followed by the hiring of Martin that led to the enrollment of Porter has created genuine enthusiasm in Columbia while proving, once and for all, that recruiting rankings do matter.
Uninspiring recruiters often insist otherwise.
But they're dead wrong every time.
And the reason is because the next-best-thing to having an awesome team is ... hope. And a top-10 ranking connected to a recruiting class -- Mizzou's 2017 class is ranked eighth nationally, according to 247 Sports -- provides hope. Good players, obviously. But also hope. And hope is important. Because hopelessness stinks.
Let's get back to Porter -- whom Martin raved is in the gym at "6 or 7 in the morning" and then again each night. "He doesn't get less than two workouts a day," Martin said. Which suggests Porter has the work ethic to match his skillset.
And, man, he has some kind of skillset.
"You're talking about somebody who is 6-10 who can handle the ball, make shots, get to the rim, make plays. And the other thing I like about him is he has a competitive spirit," Martin said. "He likes to compete. Not just play. Compete. He wants to win the game -- whether it's one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. Doesn't matter. He wants to win. ... And he reminds me in one sense of Glenn Robinson -- The Big Dog, my teammate [at Purdue and the No. 1 pick of the 1994 NBA Draft], because every time he catches the ball he's in attack mode. If you're off him, he shoots the ball. If you're on him, he drives to the basket. He does a tremendous job of reading the defense. And he stays aggressive. He just puts pressure on you."
While raising the expectations for an entire program.
Whether Porter can average 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds in one year of college like Durant did in his sole year at Texas is debatable. But it's not impossible. Which is remarkable but true. And if Porter is impactful immediately, there's a decent chance Missouri could return to the NCAA Tournament in 2018 for the first time since 2013.
"Yeah, I think so," Martin said. "It's not an easy thing. But I think we have the personnel to do it."