Yeah, it hurts.
There’s no need to get historical when you talk about Michael Porter Jr. missing almost his entire freshman season because of back surgery. You don’t have to rewind all the times Missouri broke your heart to figure out how this event compares to the others.
That’s how a program starts to feel cursed: When all of its bad moments are lumped together in a wad instead of digested individually.
But … Porter’s injury hurts.
Porter’s commitment was the gift that Missouri didn’t really ask for – it was too unrealistic – but secretly hoped Santa knew about anyway. Imagining him playing at Mizzou Arena was like the anticipation of seeing a big bow-tied box under the tree.
What’s inside will remain a mystery. If Porter’s back heals fine, he’ll still be a highly coveted player in next year’s NBA draft. His career as a Tiger might already be over, less than two minutes in.
His legacy should last longer.
Before it went under the knife Tuesday, Porter’s back had already supported an entire program through an accelerated rebuilding process. Basketball teams that go 27-68 over three consecutive seasons aren’t supposed to bring in top-five recruiting classes, sell more than 15,000 season tickets or have NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Porter made it all happen with a Tweet back in April. The words “I’m coming home” changed everything.
Much of what the Tigers accomplish this season will still reflect highly on Porter, who was instrumental in bringing Blake Harris, Jeremiah Tilmon and, of course, his brother Jontay to Columbia. Missouri’s future is tied to that trio, both for this season and the next.
The Tigers owe Porter thanks, too, for the tickets sold to see him play. The fans might not get to cash in on that transaction, but Missouri certainly did.
It hurts that Porter won’t play not just because it hurts the Tigers, but because it’s a vision unfulfilled. His decision to play for Missouri was based on his own middle school memories, his desire to see a program get to where it once was, to play for the school he grew up watching.
There were also plenty in Mid-Missouri who watched Porter play for Tolton who wondered what he could do one day at Mizzou Arena.
For a while, it seemed like the dream had become reality. The homegrown prodigy had returned. The thought was a thrill.
Now the onus is on the rest of the Tigers to fill some sizable sneakers. Jontay, Tilmon and Harris will have bigger roles than initially expected. Neither Kassius Robertson nor Jordan Barnett can be sidekicks.
Revised expectations are in order. Getting to the NCAA Tournament will be a challenge for this group, but it isn’t impossible. There’s still plenty of talent on this team, especially around the basket, and plenty of room for young players to grow.
A huge weight – the one Porter was going to carry – rests on Cuonzo Martin’s shoulders. He’ll be charged with guiding a very young group into battle without their knight in shining armor.
The loss of Porter is as much mental as physical. Monday night, as Porter was in Dallas getting further evaluation on his back, Missouri shot 2 of 20 from 3-point range and 19 of 34 from the free-throw line and committed 17 turnovers against Division II Emporia State.
Porter’s loss hurts, but it’s hardly the sign of a curse. His connection to Missouri at all was a blessing.
– Daniel Jones cover Missouri basketball and football for the Columbia Daily Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com or 573-815-1787.