COLUMBIA, Mo. – Michael Porter Jr., made available to local media members for the first time since early November, said Tuesday that it is too early to tell if he’ll play this season after undergoing back surgery on Nov. 21.
“Rehab is going great,” said Porter, whose only playing time this season was two minutes in the opener against Iowa State. “I’m getting stronger every day.”
Porter said that he’ll feel well before he’s cleared to play because of the way that injury will heal.
He said he first suffered the injury two years ago during a practice with MOKAN Elite, his club basketball team, when he rose up for a dunk and landed flat on his back.
Porter quickly returned to action to participate in an upcoming tournament, a decision he said may have had a lingering impact.
“Knowing me, I rushed back as soon as I could,” Porter said. “That’s when my body started compensating for the pain and all the stuff started happening. If I would have sat out when it happened, there’s a good chance all of this could have been avoidable. We had a big tournament that weekend and I wanted to play.”
The pain never fully went away, requiring him to play through back discomfort during undefeated senior seasons with MOKAN and Nathan Hale High School in Seattle.
“I’ve had that pain and just played through it,” Porter said. “I forgot what it was like to play normal. That’s why I feel like I’m blessed to have surgery because I feel like I’ll be far better than when I had those limitations.”
Porter said the injury progressed this offseason until Nov. 10, when the pain was so severe “I didn’t feel like I would be helpful to the team in the state I was in.”
Coach Cuonzo Martin said he didn’t have advanced knowledge of the state of the injury. He said Porter practiced through back pain through the offseason without complaint.
Porter said his family sought multiple opinions and eventually settled on surgery, a microdisectomy of two spinal discs. The team initially stated he would miss the entire season, but Porter has used social media to provide updates on recovery and, through vague language, has indicated his return could be earlier than expected.
On Monday, Porter posted a picture on Instagram of him running onto Norm Stewart Court during Missouri’s black and gold scrimmage. The caption read, “Running into 2018 like,” followed by a number of emoticons, or emojis. The final two emoticons were “back” and “soon.”
Porter said he will return to Dallas on Thursday for an update about his rehab and expects to be cleared for more activities then. He is running on the treadmill and shooting, though he is still not jumping fully.
He didn’t say whether this injury will lead to a second season at Missouri. When asked about how the injury and surgery will affect his draft stock, Porter demurred, saying it was out of his control.
Martin said he had no part in when Porter will return, a process he will leave to trainers and doctors. As a player, Martin missed significant time with knee injuries (he had three surgeries on them) and said he is taking strong measures to ensure he isn’t adding pressure for Porter to return prematurely.
“I never make calls when you talk about physical and health,” Martin said. “That’s not my place as a coach. I try to make that very clear. I never want a player to feel like, well, coach is pressuring me to play because I’ve had injuries. Sometimes I probably didn’t need to be out there on the floor.”
Martin continued, “I’ve never asked that question about, ‘When is Mike coming back?’ I don’t ask him that because I never want a young man to feel like coach is pressuring me to come out. The health is the biggest concern for me.”