During his Wednesday media gathering before Missouri’s SEC Tournament appearance, Cuonzo Martin quickly confirmed a rumor that had begun floating around on Twitter earlier in the afternoon*: Michael Porter Jr. will play on Thursday.
Porter played the first two minutes of the season but has missed every game since with a back injury. He will take the court for Missouri’s SEC Tournament second-round game against either Georgia or Vanderbilt.
I’ll be surprised if he plays 30 minutes in the game. He will not start in the game and I don’t know how many minutes he’ll play. We’ll play like he’s apart of the team. My gauge for anybody on the team is you take him out for foul trouble you take him out for being exhausted.
So we’ll see, just go from there. [...]
He just said, “Coach I’m ready to go.” That’s what it always came down to. If he had never said it all season, I would’ve been fine with that too. But it had to completely up to him to say, ‘Coach I’m ready to go, I feel good about it.’ I didn’t want him to feel any pressure of playing in a game.
I know you hear a lot of stuff outside of here. He probably hears a lot of stuff like ‘the team needs you, we want you to play.’ Of course we’d love to have him on the floor, but I wanted it to be about him feeling good about it.
The good thing about his is he just said, ‘Coach I wanna help the team.’ It wasn’t ‘I wanna do this’ or ‘I wanna do that.’ It was, ‘I wanna help the team win games, whatever that takes.’
* Consider this the final step in Mizzou’s SEC initiation process: Paul Finebaum is breaking a story about a star Tiger.
When asked about what Porter can bring to the table, Martin responded with quite a few bullet points:
His ability to score the ball. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for what he can do as a defender. Most young guys coming outta high school, you gotta work on defense. But his length athleticism and his ability to cover ground defensively. He’s 6’10 he’s long, that is hard to go against. You got multiple guys out there with size and length.
But he can also score the ball, he can go inside he can go outside make shots, put the ball on the floor. He brings a lot of dimensions to the game, he’s such a presence on the floor. You have to identify him.
Martin didn’t express too much concern about potential rust.
He’s ready to go.
I know when I came off surgeries I was healthy but the game reps is what will you back to 100%. ... But I think that he’s healthy, and that’s the most important thing. As he goes in the game and gets a feel for it -- the pace, the conditioning -- he’ll get it through time.
When you leave at the level he left at, as one of the best players in the world, in your mind that’s what it is. When I had surgery and I came back, I thought I was the same guy but I was a step slow and I had to work in some areas to get whatever I needed to get back. So it’s the same for him. ... The big thing is that the mentality that he had when he left, you want him to have that same mentality.
Missouri was projected to finish fifth in the SEC with Porter playing a key role. Without him, the Tigers finished fifth anyway. And now, for somewhere between two and 10 games, the freshman phenom is available and ready. And, if this practice video from ABC-17’s Andrew Kaufman is any indication, he will now proceed to shoot 100 percent from 3-point range.