Michael Porter Jr. is healthy and he'll practice with Missouri on Friday, teammates and coach Cuonzo Martin confirmed during an afternoon media availability Friday, ending nearly three months of speculation and mystery surrounding the 19-year-old's back health.
Cleared for practice, however, does not mean cleared for games, a point Martin made clear when he said there was no timetable for the five-star freshman's return.
"He will get implemented in practice today, and we'll go one day at a time," Martin said. "I don't think I have a timetable after that. Just one day at a time."
With three regular-season games remaining on Missouri's schedule, the Tigers find themselves in a six-way tie for third place in the SEC, and this final stretch, two-thirds of which will be played on the road, is crucial for SEC Tournament seeding and NCAA résumé-building.
The Tigers face one of six of those teams, Kentucky, tomorrow at Rupp Arena. Another third-place team, Arkansas, travels next weekend to Columbia for the regular-season finale.
And through this final stretch, Porter's status will likely remain a mystery — until it's not. Martin opted not to speculate on when, or if, his star freshman will return, but he did say Porter would start with noncontact practice then move on to full-contact if deemed appropriate.
Porter's been out for three-plus months, Martin said, and the coach is in no rush to put his star player on the floor if it could jeopardize his health.
"At the end of the day, the most important thing — I've said it before — is his well-being and his health ... and making sure he's ready to go," Martin said.
"I can't tell you when he'll step on the floor, if he steps on the floor."
His teammates couldn't say much more. Jordan Barnett and Kevin Puryear knew he would be practicing, but both said they're focused on the Tigers' game at Kentucky.
"We haven't really discussed any playing dates or when he'll be back," Puryear said.
That uncertainty, though, is not weighing on a Missouri team that managed just fine without him. After Porter went down just 2 minutes, 7 seconds into the season opener against Iowa State, Puryear said the outside voices doubting Missouri "pissed us off."
The Tigers responded by winning their first road game and then conference road game since 2014. They downed then-No. 21 Tennessee, and they beat then-No. 21 Kentucky for the first time in program history.
"The fact that people thought our season was over after he got hurt, I think that really upset us," Puryear said. "(Our performance) was more to prove everybody wrong. We know what we have in our locker room."
Speculation and uncertainty can be a distraction, but Martin said his team's focus is "on a whole other level." Porter will be a good addition to practices, but the end goal is the same.
"It's life," Martin said. "There's nothing you can do about it happening. It's what it is. We deal with it, and we move on. I try not to make big deals about things."
Martin cares most about winning games, which the Tigers are in desperate need of with just more than a week of regular-season play remaining. With Porter, though, he's not ruling anything out.
"He's a competitive player," Martin said. "If you say he's playing tomorrow, he plays tomorrow."
From Martin's remarks, that seems unlikely. But asked if the freshman would suit up for the Tigers against Kentucky, Martin said if "it makes him feel good, that's fine."
"I hadn't even thought about it," Martin said, before cracking a smile. "Maybe I should say he's playing."
Supervising editor is Pete Bland.