‘Too premature’ to decide whether Jontay Porter returns for redshirt sophomore season in 2019

ust as Jontay prepared to take the spotlight, an ACL and MCL tear benched him in typical Porter fashion, leaving him and Missouri to contemplate his next move.
Sophomore forward Jontay Porter talks with members of the media before a practice on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at Mizzou Arena.

After Mizzou Madness, Jontay Porter talked about how good his body felt and had been operating in the offseason. Less than 24 hours later, on Sunday, Oct. 21, news broke that the sophomore forward had torn his ACL and MCL during a scrimmage against Southern Illinois.

Missouri will not be seeing Jontay take the court anytime soon, if ever again.

“It was hard to hear [he was injured],” said Lorenzo Romar, a close friend of the Porter family. “His dad called and told me. It was just tough because he had gotten himself in such great shape and he was about to have a great year. It’s tough.”

The ex-player and current Pepperdine coach believes it may be a little too early for Jontay to start debating his options for next year.

“Right now, I don’t know if he plans on going back to Missouri another year or entering the draft,” Romar said. “In a cut-and-dry situation, if your ultimate goal is just to get into the NBA, then you go to the NBA. If you are still enjoying college, then maybe you stay another year. That’d be up to each individual and what their goals are.”

The storyline is all too familiar for Missouri and the Porter family, who watched not only Michael, but also Bri and Cierra suffer injuries while members of the women’s program.

Bri, the oldest of the eight Porter children, played for two seasons under Missouri coach Robin Pingeton before tearing her left ACL prior to the 2016-2017 season and ending her playing career. Along with her two tears in her left knee, Bri had also torn the same ligament in her right knee three times. Cierra announced her medical retirement from basketball this past June due to lingering knee problems, opting out of her senior year of eligibility.

Even with optimal recovery time for ACL injuries averaging around six months, that would put Jontay, the lottery pick apparent, at an April 2019 return to the court, just a short month before the 2019 NBA Combine.

The storyline for this season was obviously different prior to Jontay’s injury. It revolved around a young, quiet player who had always resided comfortably in the shadow of his older brother. This season was going to be his first chance to take the spotlight for himself.

“I think Jontay’s gonna go down as the Porter we should’ve been talking about all along,” Ben Frederickson, a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a Missouri alumnus, had said.

Frederickson, Romar, other reporters, high school coaches, and even Jontay himself would tell you the eighteen-year-old has always been the quiet one. Compared to his older brother, Michael, the difference in personality was far more striking than their supposed difference in talent. Jeremy Osborne, coach at Father Tolton Catholic High School, noticed this as soon as the pair of brothers started playing for him. Jontay easily blended in while his brother took the spotlight, and neither of them had a problem with the roles they played.

“All of the attention that Michael was getting made it kind of easy for [Jontay] to slide in and do his thing,” Osborne said. “[Jontay is] kind of an introverted person as is.”

The same principle carried across the country to Seattle, where Jontay and Michael spent the 2016-17 season playing at Nathan Hale under ex-NBA star Brandon Roy.

“Jontay was always the quiet one,” Jayda Evans, the prep sports writer for The Seattle Times, said of her interactions with the young player.

Even last year, when Michael played 53 minutes across three games due to herniated disks in his back, Jontay still managed to stay moderately under the radar while recording 326 points and playing in all 33 games. He received SEC co-sixth man of the year and SEC all-freshman honors for leading Missouri in both rebounding and shots blocked. Jontay’s defensive play had always been his strong suit, and one of his defining features when compared to Michael, Osborne said.

“[Michael and Jontay are] entirely different players,” Romar said. He was the coach at Washington and had the Porters lined up to go to school there when Michael Sr. was an assistant coach on the Huskies’ staff. But his firing from Washington paved the way for both to end up back in Missouri. “[People] wanted to put Jontay in this Michael Porter Jr. box. That wasn’t his game. We used to joke, Mike Sr. and I, that people were sleeping on Jontay.”

Going into the 2018-2019 season, this certainly seemed to be the case. With Michael off to the NBA as a member of the Denver Nuggets, the spotlight at Missouri was left behind for Jontay, who had opted out of declaring for the draft alongside his brother even after participating in the combine. He was the only Porter left at Missouri besides his father after the school had seen four between both it’s men’s and women’s rosters during the previous season.

Just two weeks ago, the sophomore was representing the team alongside coach Cuonzo Martin and senior forward Kevin Puryear at SEC Tipoff on Oct. 17. Jontay was named to the media’s preseason second team All-SEC. Missouri was No. 9 in the preseason media-voted standings. On Oct. 20 at Mizzou Madness, the basketball program preview event, Porter effortlessly sunk a three-pointer during the Hot Shot competition as well as dunking on his fellow teammates during their scrimmage. He was set to be the main attraction at Mizzou Arena all season long before heading to the 2019 draft, even despite his own comment that he has “a jolly personality, but not an alpha dog one.”

“[Jontay] looked really good there,” Frederickson said of Porter’s performance at Mizzou Madness. “At times in the past he’d had some tendinitis issues with his knee that I think kept him kind of grounded but that seemed to be much better. It was really cruel what happened.”

Osborne, Frederickson and Romar all agreed: Jontay was going to be a lottery pick at the end of the season.

However, Frederickson now has concerns about Jontay’s future how the Porter family’s medical history may look to NBA scouts.

“Some guys come back from knee injuries and it’s as if it never happened,” Frederickson said. “Some guys come back and even after their body is healed it’s more of a mental block than it is anything. You look at the family and they’ve had a hard time staying healthy at what should be the peaks of their careers. I would have to think NBA teams are going to be wondering about that as well.”

For now, Missouri must settle into a waiting game, both for the official start of the season as well as for updates on Jontay’s health. It’s a game Missouri is all too familiar with.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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