Porter out to help Missouri in NCAA tourney, not stack stats

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr. is one of the biggest unknowns in the NCAA Tournament.

Not that he minds at all.

“People can kind of say what they want,” Porter said Thursday. “I’m pretty good at taking what people say and putting it aside and focusing on what’s important for me.”

Porter is a big topic of conversation if only because he came in last fall as a preseason All-American based on being the nation’s top recruit until Duke’s Marvin Bagley decided to go to college himself a year early. Then Porter hurt his low back two minutes into Missouri’s season opener and needed surgery.

That sidelined him until Missouri’s lone game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. The 6-foot-10 forward’s college career consists of 25 minutes played over two games, and Porter shot 5 of 17 in a 62-60 loss to Georgia .

If Porter plays anything like he did as a high school senior, then the eighth-seeded Tigers (20-12) could snap a string of three straight losses in the NCAA Tournament. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton says he’s expecting Porter at his best, even if based only on what he saw out of the forward before college.

“He’s a tremendously talented youngster,” Hamilton said. “In fact, he’s one of the top four, five basketball players in college basketball. So as young people say, we don’t have it twisted. We know exactly what we’re facing. We’re facing a youngster that is tremendously talented, that’s healthy.”

Porter scored 36.2 points per game in leading Nathan Hale to a Washington state title. He was MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and also piled up the Naismith and Gatorade player of the year awards, joining only Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Chris Webber and Alonzo Mourning to win all three.

That’s why Porter shared the SEC’s preseason player of the year award . Then two minutes into a game against Iowa State on Nov. 10, Porter’s freshman season appeared over. He had a microdiscectomy that month to repair two discs , then began the healing process.

Porter said he worked to stay focused and patient, ignoring what people said about him.

“They’re going to forget about you, but you know you’re going to bounce back better than ever,” Porter said.

Porter’s return comes at a perfect time for the Tigers, who are down to eight available players and seven on scholarship against Florida State (20-11). Jordan Barnett, the second-leading scorer, is suspended for this game after being arrested for driving while intoxicated last weekend.

“He’s a great player so he’s not going to try to be somebody he’s not,” Missouri guard Kassius Robertson said of Porter. “He’s going to come in, play the game. And don’t forget, we did have three, four months of practice with him before the season started, so it’s not like he’s a stranger to us. We know exactly how he plays, who he is.”

For the Seminoles, Porter has their attention.

“Everyone has seen what he’s done in high school,” Florida State guard Terance Mann said. “Everyone kind of knows he’s a good player. We’ve got to contain him and follow the scouting report.”

A vegetarian all his life, Porter has taken to eating 10 bananas a day along with up to two gallons of water. He says he’s not looking to boost any personal stats right now. Helping his team, and his brother and fellow freshman Jontay, who averages 10.1 points, is his only focus.

“We’re happy to be here and can’t wait for (Friday night),” Porter said.

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