Michael Porter Jr. says he'll play for Missouri this season if his doctors clear him

Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. laughs on the bench during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Miami (Ohio) Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, in Columbia, Mo. Missouri won 70-51. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

If doctors clear Michael Porter Jr. to return before the end of this season, the highly touted Missouri freshman says he intends to play.

Porter. told reporters in Columbia on Friday that he is not worried about damaging his NBA draft stock by either showing rust or aggravating his back injury. The future lottery pick’s only concern is whether he can help Missouri return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.

“If I could play today, I would play today,” Porter said. “I’m not worried about reinjury. I’m not really worried about the risk. What I’m worried about is if it’s good for our team if I come back. If it’s tournament time and they said I’m ready to go, is that the best thing for our team? We’re doing really well right now, and I think people lose sight of that.”

Porter Jr. has not played for Missouri since the opening two minutes of its season opener against Iowa State on Nov. 10. He underwent back surgery to repair damage to the L3-L4 spinal discs, a procedure that has a projected recovery time of 3 to 4 months.

Whether Porter Jr. will return before the end of his freshman season has been a subject of debate for months. He offered reason for optimism on Friday, suggesting “there is a good chance” that his doctors clear him to practice at his upcoming appointment next week.

“I think the doctors are going to be amazed at my progress,” Porter Jr. said.

“I’m hoping that next week, the doctors tell me I’m ready to start full on practicing. That’s what I’m hoping for. I don’t know if that’s what I’ll hear.”

It’s safe to assume Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin would welcome Porter back if doctors deem him healthy enough to play. The long, athletic forward entered the season widely considered one of college basketball’s three top NBA prospects along with Duke’s Marvin Bagley and Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton.

Hired last spring to help Missouri rebound from three straight last place finishes in the SEC, Martin immediately made a shrewd move by hiring Michael Porter Sr. as one of his three assistant coaches. That enabled Martin to land the elder Porter’s two talented sons, Michael and younger brother Jontay, as part of a talent-rich recruiting class.

Missouri has done an admirable job remaining in NCAA tournament contention even with the elder Porter brother not in uniform. The Tigers are 16-8 overall and 6-5 in the SEC entering Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. They would likely sneak into the NCAA tournament field if the season ended today thanks to quality wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama.

Of course, getting Porter Jr. back could be the difference between slipping into the NCAA tournament and doing some damage once they make it. He said he would only need a handful of practices before he felt game-ready.

“If it were up to me, I’d love to get a couple games under my belt before hopping into tournament play,” Porter said. “That’s how I’d love to do it. I’m doing everything I can. I’m working hard every day. I’m feeling better every day. I’m just hoping the doctors feel the same way.”

Rivals.com video of Michael Porter Jr.’s news conference on Friday: 

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!