COLUMBIA, Mo. – It’s now official.
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin announced that freshman Michael Porter Jr. has officially been cleared to return to practice.
His first practice since leaving Missouri’s Nov. 10 season opener against Iowa State at the 18:20 mark of the first half was scheduled for Friday, before the team left for Kentucky.
There is no set date for Porter’s return to an actual game, Martin said.
“I don’t have a timetable,” Martin said. “We will just go one day at a time. At the end of the day, the most important thing, I’ve said it before, is his well-being and his health.”
Long before Porter’s clearance became a reality, Martin said that Porter would need to practice before getting any game time. He didn’t change his tune in his Friday media availability.
“To be OK to start a practice. Then you have to go through it. Again, I couldn’t tell you when he will step on the floor, if he steps on the floor,” Martin said. “Most important thing is to get healthy. If he is healthy enough to practice and go through it, run the floor, block out, foul down, take a charge, then I will decide between the doctors, trainers, Nicodemus (Christopher) and say ‘OK, we’re good?’ Then we’re good.”
Martin said Porter would begin practice with noncontact drills.
“We will see how that goes, and we will progress from there,” he added.
Porter, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2017 class, has played just two minutes this season. He hasn’t practiced since the injury, but senior Jordan Barnett is excited to see him back practicing, adding that the team’s focus hasn’t changed.
“We are just excited to have him back practicing,” said Barnett, who is averaging 13.9 points this season. “Right now, we are focused on Kentucky. Focused on trying to go in there and get a win and get off this two-game losing streak.”
Missouri has put together quite the season without Porter. The Tigers are 18-10 and 8-7 in conference play.
When Porter was ruled “likely out for the season,” in November junior Kevin Puryear said the team heard the outside noise that it wouldn’t be good anymore and used it as motivation.
“We aren’t going to deny it, yeah, it pissed us all of,” said Puryear, a Blue Springs South graduate. “(Porter) is who he is, and, yes, he is a great teammate. He is a great player, but even he will tell you we have a talented group of guys, as well.”
What Porter can add to the Tigers is a 6-foot-10 forward who can handle the ball and score on every level. Despite his scoring talent, Martin said there wasn’t much to change in the team’s offense when he was ruled out.
“We have packages where, if we need to get a guy the ball, we can. And the thing with Mike, Mike can score the ball. He can go inside and outside. He can bring the ball up the floor. He can come off the ball screen. He can set a ball screen. He can shoot a 3-point shot,” Martin said. “He is not a guy that you have to have a lot of plays for, because he can make plays.”
Porter, a projected top-10 NBA draft pick, has shown his ability to score. He averaged 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds in his final year of high school at Nathan Hale, in Seattle.
“To have him on the floor would be a huge asset for our team. Everybody in this room knows what he brings to the table,” Puryear said. “We haven’t discussed any playing dates or when he will be back or anything like that.”
Porter is not expected to play against Kentucky on Saturday. Martin said he hasn’t even given any thought to the idea of having Porter in uniform.
“I haven’t thought that far into it. I really haven’t,” Martin said. “Maybe, if it makes him feel good, yeah, that’s fine if that happens. It could happen, but I haven’t thought about it. That’s why my assistant coaches help me out so much.”