Five-star freshman Michael Porter Jr. has been cleared for basketball activities, Missouri Coach Cuonzo Martin confirmed Friday afternoon.
So, will the former No. 1-ranked recruit make his return to the court against Kentucky on Saturday night?
“He will get implemented into practice today, and we’ll just go one day at a time,” Martin said. “And I don’t really have a timetable after that. Just one day at a time. And at the end of the day, the most important thing is ... his well-being and his health and to make sure he’s good to go. It’s one thing to be OK to start a practice.
“I couldn’t tell you when he steps on the floor or if he steps on the floor (in games).”
Martin, who said he would probably start Porter with more “non-contact” activity in Friday’s practice, was asked if he would like Porter to play in a regular-season game before the start of the SEC Tournament in a couple of weeks.
“The most important thing is to get healthy. Again, if he’s healthy enough to practice and go though it and bang up and down, run the floor, block out, fall down, take a charge, all those things — then I’ll decide between the doctors and the trainers,” Martin said. “But he’s a competitive player, so if you say, ‘Play tomorrow,’ he’s playing tomorrow. That’s just his nature. That’s one of the gifts that he has.
“But it’s bigger than just him (saying), ‘I want to play.’ He has to be healthy enough to play in my opinion.”
On whether Missouri should even put Porter in uniform for the game against UK on Saturday night, Martin said: “Good question. I hadn’t even thought about it. Maybe I should say he’s playing, get ’em off balance,” he joked. “I hadn’t even thought that far into it. I really hadn’t. Maybe if it makes him feel good, yeah, that’s fine. It could happen, but I haven’t thought that far.”
Michael Porter Sr., the player’s father, is an assistant coach on Martin’s staff.
Porter was the Naismith High School national player of the year coming out of Nathan Hale (Wash.) last season, averaging 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per game and leading his team to a state title. The summer before that, he teamed up with Trae Young to win the Nike EYBL title at Peach Jam.
Rivals.com ranked Porter as the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting class, and he came into this season expected to contend for college national player of the year honors.
Instead, Porter has played just two minutes for the Tigers this season.
The 6-foot-10 forward checked out of Missouri’s season opener against Iowa State with an injury. Several days later, Porter underwent back surgery that — at the time — was expected to keep him out the rest of the season.
As a sure-thing lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft — and a possible No. 1 overall pick before the injury — the surgery meant that Porter might never play more than two minutes of college basketball.
Martin said last week that, even if Porter were to be cleared for basketball activities, that didn’t necessarily mean he would play for the Tigers this season.
“There is no point in playing the guy if he gives you five minutes a game,” he said. “He’s not built to play five minutes a game. The guy is a ballplayer. So you have to put him in positions so he can be successful. That’s why you go through practice situations. To feel it out. Put him in a lot of different scenarios. It will be heightened to another level come game time, because there is a scouting report. They still remember the caliber guy he is.”
After Saturday’s game at Kentucky, the Tigers play at Vanderbilt on Tuesday night and return home for the regular-season finale against Arkansas on Saturday.
The SEC Tournament will be played the following week, and Missouri is currently projected as a No. 7 seed for the NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN’s latest Bracketology update. That tournament is three weeks away.