March 24 is a day many Missouri basketball fans will never forget. And while the dominant feeling of that day was elation, many fans will now look back with some mixed emotions.
Michael Porter Jr. committing to play basketball at Missouri represented the single biggest recruiting win in the history of the program. I guess you could make an argument for Steve Stipanovich — he did make a bigger impact during his time in the program — but even that is a bit of a stretch. Never had there been a player with such NBA star-level potential bringing his talents to a Missouri program in such desperate need of a spark. Porter may not have been able to deliver on the on-court promise, but his commitment swung a lot of momentum in the Tigers’ favor, making the turnaround from, “8-win team,” to, “NCAA tournament team,” possible.
#13 Michael Porter Jr.
6'10" 215 lbs
I’ve said many times that this season will always be clouded with the shadow of Porter’s back injury. No matter how positive things were - and don’t get it confused, this was a positive year for Missouri basketball! - fans will always have the, “What if?” question floating around in the back of their collective consciousness.
Still, MPJ took his time recovering from his back injury and fought for his school at a time when they needed him. His numbers weren’t as bad as you might think, but it was clear he was working with about 75% of what he normally had.
There’s no getting around it: the Michael Porter Jr. era didn’t go as fans would have hoped. So taking everything in - the commitment, the injury, the return - what part of his time at Missouri will you remember most?
Sam Snelling: There was nothing from a basketball standpoint that I’ll look back upon fondly. But the moment the rumors became true and he pledged his commitment, through the spring and summer, Mizzou fans had a buzz, and some internet weirdo might call the buzz, “palpable.” Porter Jr. led Mizzou and its fans through one of the most interesting offseasons I can remember and made the hiring of Cuonzo Martin feel like an afterthought. There was the original commitment, the official visit with Kevin Knox and Blake Harris, the subtle recruitment of Jeremiah Tilmon, and the Carte’Are Gordon saga. Michael Porter touched each and every part of the roster rebuild and the pure joy and excitement of the offseason and the budding anticipation of getting to watch an elite player was just plain fun. It just sucks he didn’t get to provide what we’d hoped for.
Matt Harris: There’s not an on-court moment I can point to. The sample size is tiny. And I won’t be original in saying that Porter restored some luster to MU’s brand. Since the loss to Norfolk State in 2012, the program’s footing eroded slowly (under Frank Haith) and then suddenly (under Kim Anderson). But after Washington canned Lorenzo Romar, the fates aligned and conspired — however briefly — to give Mizzou fans a moment of catharsis when Porter came home.
With sports, we subconsciously map our anxieties on to players and games. When MPJ signed up to play for Martin, it felt like absolution — from a Haith recruiting plan that felt like a failing Ponzi scheme, from Anderson’s incompetence, from being perpetually spurned by the state’s best talent and from the lingering PR hit linked to tumult in 2015. The pied-piper effect MPJ created with Jontay Porter, Jeremiah Tilmon and Blake Harris seemed further testament to something bigger happening.
And then it all went to hell in a handcart two minutes into the opener against Iowa State.
The ongoing saga of his return dragged on and tested patience, but it engaged people in a way that we haven’t seen in ages. However, I sensed the fanbase appreciated this team in a deeper way because of the tribulations it had to overcome to reach an NCAA tournament. And in the glimpses we saw of Porter against Florida State, it affirmed how much reviving the program mattered: standing in the left corner with 10 minutes left to go, staring up into the rafters of Bridgestone Arena trying to summon stamina from a well that was empty.
Porter wanted to leave an impact, and he achieved the result. How lasting will it be? Well, Jontay Porter is likely off to the NBA with him. Kassisus Robertson’s eligibility expired. C.J. Roberts will suit up for Texas Tech, and Blake Harris will be a part of N.C. State. Only Jeremiah Tilmon is left in the fold. That’s not intended as a harsh criticism. Porter and Mizzou pushed their chips into the center of the table. The gambit, however, might be one where they just break even. What you can’t dispute is that you care how it all turns out.
Tashan Reed: It has to be the emotion that he showed after Mizzou’s loss to Florida State in the NCAA Tournament. Michael Porter Jr. didn’t shoot it well for the second consecutive game since his return from injury, but he undoubtedly gave his all. You couldn’t ask much more from him than 16 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. He was absolutely gassed and still knocked down a clutch 3-pointer that brought them within one-possession down the stretch.
More telling than his stat line, though, were the tears that he shed as the Tigers left the floor. He looked genuinely disappointed in himself after the game, hanging his head and speaking in a somber tone. It was clear that he wanted more out of himself and for the program in his time at Missouri. He didn’t ask to be injured. He wanted to play basketball, win games and put on a show for the fans. He didn’t get to for the vast majority of the season, but he showed that he truly cared when Mizzou needed him most.
Josh Matejka: It’s weird that we have as many options as we do for a player who only logged 53 minutes of game action. But there are a few to choose from: the, “I’m Coming Home,” tweet that effectively marked the return of Missouri basketball; the countless national TV spots and magazine covers featuring a Missouri jersey; the return from injury; the three against Georgia that sparked thoughts of, “He’s going to hit the game-winner isn’t he?”; and, of course, the tears he shed after the loss to Florida State, the fatal blow to a crushingly disappointing season. I think the emotion he showed at the end is the most admirable part of his brief Missouri tenure, and I was probably most enthralled when he hit the three against Georgia.
But as much as I understand the desire to hold onto the good things he did for Missouri basketball, there’s no getting around the disappointment this season was to him, the team, and the fans. That first night against Iowa State and the juxtaposition of his introduction with the quiet murmurs around Mizzou Arena as he quietly, knowingly sat on the bench: that’s what I’m going to remember the most. That doesn’t necessarily define what he did for the program. But it is the clearest picture of the expectations/reality disconnect the season ended up being for everyone who was invested.
Chris Bohkay: What I’ll remember most is everything that lead up to the Iowa State game, because everything after that was just an afterthought. There has been a lot of debate about the importance of Michael’s time at Mizzou, and while he will mostly be remembered for being hurt, what I’ll remember him for is the moment he committed to Mizzou through November. He made Mizzou relevant and a topic of national conversation, something that had not been the case since 2012. While Blake Harris didn’t work out, with MPJr, he’s not a Tiger, nor is Jontay, and while you can debate his involvement in closing Tilmon, he played a role. From then until Iowa State, Michael allowed Mizzou fans to dream about a basketball season that would be fun again, that would be something you had to watch after three years of actively avoiding Mizzou basketball. He made Mizzou basketball matter. So good luck on the next step MPJ. Get better, have a great rookie season in the league, and thanks for what your commitment meant to Mizzou in the spring/summer of 2017.
Catch up on the rest of our postseason player analysis pieces: