On a night when the story should have been the beautiful basketball Missouri played—and make no mistake, it was beautiful until the officials couldn't quit blowing their whistles—it wasn’t.
Trust me, I mean it when I say I would love to be writing about Jontay Porter’s masterful first half performance, about Kassius Robertson being the shooter he was advertised to be, about Cullen VanLeer and Reed Nikko giving the Tigers quality minutes, about walk-ons Adam Wolf and Brett Rau getting extended minutes and each making a three-pointer (giving them each one more point than the top recruit in the country so far this season).
Because the much more fun right now story is that Missouri has a damn good basketball team.
But for most of Monday night, the story was “Where in the world is Michael Porter Jr.?”
Missouri announced shortly before tipoff what most had already guessed, that Porter would not play against Wagner and is day-to-day with an injury that has not been specified by anyone around the program. It could be a hip, could be his back, could be something with his leg. Nobody knows for sure. Cuonzo Martin said after the game it was his leg.
“I don’t know how serious, it’s hard for me to say that,” Martin said. “I think it’s day to day, that’s the best assessment for me to say right now.
“I understand you want that information, but we just played a team with 15 other guys on the roster. But the truth of the matter, I’m not a doctor, I can’t give you more than that. I’m not gonna give you more, it’s not my job to give that out of respect for Mike and his family. I think the best thing is day to day. If I have more, I’ll give you more.”
Which is all fine and within their rights. We did learn—from Robertson—that Porter didn’t practice on Sunday before the game. Beyond that, nobody knows much of anything.
“I’ve been going to class, coming to practice and he’s been doing his own thing,” Jontay Porter said when asked if his brother had seen any doctors outside of the team.
This all came about after Porter Jr. exited Friday night’s season opener after just two minutes and seven seconds and spent most of the night with his warmups on and a bag of ice somewhere around his left hip.
That he did not play on Monday night is not any great cause for concern. The Tigers wore out Wagner, leading by 33 at halftime and winning 99-55. That he was not on the bench was at least odd, but if you buy Missouri’s belated explanation—and to be clear, I have no reason not to as Robertson told reporters after the game Porter was in the locker room watching the game and cheering for his team—also not necessarily any reason for panic.
The test will come Thursday. Missouri plays at Utah that night. The Tigers didn’t need Porter against Iowa State. They didn’t need him against Wagner. But at Utah? Even if Mizzou is good enough to win in a blowout, you’d like to be at full strength going in. If he doesn’t play Thursday night, it’s officially time to be concerned that this is just a minor issue that will easily go away.
“I’m not sure if he’ll fly with us,” Martin said on Monday night.
Missouri could alleviate some of these concerns. But the fact that they've had chances and haven’t done so lends itself to rampant speculation.
Porter is different than anything Missouri has had. This is the best player in the country. This is a kid some said could have been the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft last year. As a high school senior. When he goes to award shows he’s asked about the Disney Channel star he used to date. When he sneezes, it’s a story. When he’s not on the bench for one of the thirty-something games he’s for which he’s going to be a part of the Missouri roster, it’s abso-freaking-lutely a story.
And so Porter Watch 2017 will go on. When (if?) he will return to the lineup is unknown. Even getting back on the bench supporting his teammates would be a step in the right direction.
“As you can imagine any player would be upset that they don’t get to play in their first year at college,” Jontay said. “He’s handling it well. He’s rehabbing. It’s day to day right now. Hopefully he’ll be ready the next game, but we’ll see. There’s no telling.”
No telling at all. For now, the Tigers carry on without him. Nobody knows when that might change. Or if they do, they're not saying.