ST. LOUIS — Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said in Wednesday’s media availability that Michael Porter Jr., the No. 1 recruit in the 2017 class, came to him Tuesday after practice and said that he was good to go.
“He said, ‘I want to help the team,’” Martin said at Scottrade Center, the site of this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament. “It wasn’t about, I want to do this, I want to do that. ‘I want to help the team win games, whatever that takes.’”
The two responded with a fist bump and Martin told Porter, “Let’s roll.”
Porter, who has not seen the floor since playing two minutes in the team’s Nov. 10 season opener against Iowa State, will not start, Martin said. And he would be surprised “if he plays 30 minutes in the game.”
Aside from that, Porter has no limitations, Martin said.
“We’ll play it just like he’s part of the team,” he added.
This announcement comes nearly two weeks after Porter was cleared to return to practice. Despite being cleared since Feb. 22, Porter did not dress in the last three games.
On Nov. 20, before the Tigers left for the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla., the team announced Porter was having surgery on two spinal discs Nov. 21 in Dallas, and likely would miss the entire season.
Martin said he operated off that mentality throughout the year.
“I just looked at it like he wasn’t coming back,” Martin said. “It wasn’t something he said. You gotta respect the space of a player going through something like that. My focus at the time was the players on the floor. Not a guy with the trainers. A guy that’s hurt, that’s between him and the trainers. You don’t even necessarily even need to tell me. If the guy can practice, he can practice. If he can’t, he can’t. I gotta lock in on what’s in front of me.”
Missouri (20-11) holds the No. 5 seed in this week’s SEC Tournament.
After Porter was cleared to play, Martin stressed that the freshman would need time in practice to get back in game rhythm.
Porter’s return to game action, though, was always up to him, Martin said. The coach didn’t want to pressure him to return.
“If he didn’t say it all season, I would have been fine with that, too. It had to be completely up to him to say, 'I’m ready to go. I feel good about it,'” Martin said. “I didn’t want him to feel any pressure of playing in the game.”
His return comes at the perfect time.
With Cullen VanLeer out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Porter gives Missouri a needed body. Missouri will now have eight scholarship players available. Jordan Geist is expected to play despite missing practice Wednesday with the flu.
But he’s more than just an extra body.
Porter, a 6-foot-10 forward who is projected to go in the top 10 of this year’s NBA draft, gives Missouri a much-needed boost in many other areas.
Praised as an NBA-ready scorer, Porter will, most importantly, give Missouri another playmaker.
“He can score the ball. He can go inside, he can go outside and make shots, put the ball on the floor,” Martin said.
What Porter might not get much credit for, though, Martin said, is his defensive ability.
“Most guys coming out of high school have to work defensively. His length, his athleticism, his ability to cover ground defensively at 6-10 – he’s long,” Martin said. “That’s hard to go up against. You got multiple guys out there with size and length, and I think he can cover a lot of ground.”
Missouri will play the winner between Georgia and Vanderbilt in Thursday's second round. Tip is expected around 2:30 p.m., depending on the ending of the Thursday’s first game between eighth-seeded Texas A&M and ninth-seeded Alabama.