The Maneater

Porter Jr. declares for NBA draft

Missouri’s most coveted recruit in years will forgo a second season with the Tigers despite appearing in just three games at the collegiate level.

Michael Porter Jr. addresses his future at Missouri after the Tigers' season-ending defeat to Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, March 16, 2018, at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

Missouri’s Porter Jr. saga is over.

Michael Porter Jr. will enter the 2018 NBA draft and forgo a second season with the Tigers, he announced in a video posted on Instagram Monday afternoon.

“I feel so blessed to be in the position I’m at,” he said in the video. “I wish I could’ve been on the floor with my brothers every single night, but I’m so thankful to have been part of such a special group.”

The freshman phenom’s decision to declare for the draft comes 10 days after the Missouri Tigers’ season ended at the hands of Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The choice comes as no surprise given Porter Jr.’s draft stock, even after suffering an injury that sidelined him for almost the entirety of his freshman season at Missouri. Porter Jr. played in parts of just three games for the Tigers in his now-concluded collegiate career.

But that hasn’t stopped his talent from prompting high praise in draft projections. Bleacher Report’s Joe Tansey currently predicts Porter Jr. being picked fifth overall by the Orlando Magic. ESPN lists him as the No. 7 overall prospect in the draft class. That’s a trend mirrored in numerous mock drafts; the one-and-done is widely considered to be at least a top-10 or lottery pick.

Porter Jr. was the No. 1 overall recruit in his class when he committed to play for Cuonzo Martin and Missouri almost a year ago to the day. Spearheading a top-10 recruiting class in the country for the Tigers, he was considered the most highly anticipated athlete to come to Missouri in years.

That anticipation was put to a screeching halt two minutes into his debut, when he gingerly returned to the bench with self-described hip discomfort at the time. Eleven days later, that hip discomfort was a supposed season-ending microdiscectomy surgery on his L3 and L4 spinal discs.

After more than three months out and abounding speculation, Porter Jr. was cleared by a doctor for all basketball activities. Still, while readapting to the contact aspect of the sport, Martin wasn’t able to implement his coveted recruit in the regular season, instead opting to re-debut the freshman in the Tigers’ first game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Missouri lost that game to Georgia, then was defeated by Florida State on March 16 in the team’s first NCAA Tournament game since 2013, bringing a sour end to its successful season.

Porter Jr. played 23 minutes against Georgia and 28 against Florida State. He averaged 14 points per game across the pair of losses but shot for a total of only 31 percent. He also averaged nine rebounds per game between the two but was still considered to have underperformed in both contests. He said after the SEC Tournament loss that he still wasn’t at 100 percent.

After the season-ending loss to Florida State, he wouldn’t yet address what his decision would be regarding the draft but was solemn about the 0-2 finish Missouri had stumbled to with him in the lineup.

“We lost both games I played,” Porter Jr. said after the season-ending defeat, “so I don’t feel like I helped the team.”

Porter Jr.’s brief appearance at the beginning of the Tigers’ season opener against Iowa State constituted the only time he suited up and played at Mizzou Arena during his time at Missouri and the only time he took part in a Missouri win. He scored 2 points in that game, cashing in on his only shot attempt, before exiting.

At SEC Media Day prior to the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Porter Jr. had hinted at a possible unorthodox decision to stay with Missouri beyond his freshman season, in spite of his established one-and-done talent.

When he spoke to local media in February regarding whether he would return that season, he briefly readdressed the lingering NBA draft decision.

“It’s still up in the air,” he said at the time.

Now, as Missouri loses him and senior Jordan Barnett, it will have to look for an able replacement to play small forward next season.

Porter Jr.’s brother Jontay, meanwhile, has yet to make a decision of his own on whether to stay at Missouri or follow his older brother’s footsteps to the draft. The younger Porter was supposed to be a senior in high school this year but reclassified last summer to graduate early and join Porter Jr. as a fellow freshman at Mizzou.

Like his big brother, Porter has often used social media, particularly Instagram, to vaguely convey a potential decision and often spark mass speculation. His latest instance of this was March 17, a day after the Tigers were eliminated, when he posted with a caption check-marking off “Year 1” at Missouri.

While some have used this as an indicator that he might return, he may be similarly compelled by his own draft stock. Tansey projects him being picked 22nd overall, and many other mock drafts list him as a mid-to-late first-round pick if he were to declare.

That decision still awaits the public though, as well as whether the Porter family story at Missouri is as one-and-done as Porter Jr.’s time as a Tiger.

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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