COLUMBIA, MO. • After a week at the beach, we’re back online for a quick vacation interlude before a few more days on the water next week. Then it’s off to Birmingham for SEC Football Media Days and before you know it, the start of preseason football camp.
For now, though, let’s catch up on what we missed the last couple weeks on the Mizzou beat …
TIGERS LAND LOCAL PLEDGE
Missouri football’s 2020 class grew to 12 on Thursday when another in-state prospect picked the Tigers. Not just in-state in the case of linebacker Will Norris, but in-town. The three-star prospect from Columbia’s Rock Bridge High picked up a Mizzou offer in March and on the Fourth of July announced he’s staying home for college.
Norris has another Power 5 offer from Kansas and had recently visited West Point — he holds offers from Army and Air Force — and seems to fit Missouri’s prototype at middle linebacker, where Barry Odom has turned Cale Garrett into an unheralded three-star prospect headed to West Point into one of the SEC’s elite linebackers.
Norris gives Mizzou seven commitments from in-state targets — that includes Kevon Billingsley, who’s from St. Louis but has recently transferred across the river to East St. Louis — and that’s now the most in-state pledges for an MU class since the Tigers signed seven in 2015. (The 2015 class — Drew Lock’s recruiting class — had seven players from Missouri high schools plus Terry Beckner Jr. from East St. Louis.)
If you’re into recruiting rankings, Mizzou’s class of 2012 now ranks No. 33 nationally and No. 30 in average ranking.
NO PORTER IN VEGAS
Friday was supposed to be the NBA “debut” for Michael Porter Jr., albeit in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League. When the Denver Nuggets tipped off against the Phoenix Suns in the glorified junior varsity scrimmage, it was going to be a milestone moment for the brief Missouri Tiger as he made his long-awaited return from multiple back surgeries. Instead, Porter will have to sit out the Summer League schedule after spraining his knee during a Wednesday practice, several outlets reported over the holiday. The Denver Post had the news first.
The injury is “nothing major” Nuggets summer league coach Jordi Fernandez told reporters Thursday. Training camp isn’t for another few months, so barring a further setback, Porter could be ready for the regular season, which will count as his rookie year after he missed the entire 2018-19 season.
By now, anyone who’s followed Porter’s career the last few years is probably conditioned to wonder if he’ll ever fulfill all the promise. He just turned 21 last week, but he’s already undergone two back surgeries. He had the hip inflammation that held him out of pre-draft workouts last summer. There was the reported case of drop foot that was going to put him in a knee brace in Vegas. And now, the sprained left knee. Whether or not it’s a coincidence, we can’t talk about Porter’s health without thinking about the knee injuries that have afflicted his siblings, too, including younger brother Jontay Porter, who went undrafted last month and remains unsigned after suffering his second ACL tear.
Fair or not, until Michael gets on the floor and plays meaningful minutes, the damaged goods narrative is going to follow his every step. From the time he was a 15-year-old freshman in high school Porter inspired whispers of Kevin Durant, the similarly built freakishly elite scorer who has gone on to become an NBA all-time great. Durant was the No. 2 overall pick in 2007. If these injuries linger and Porter’s career remains on hold, he’s going to inspire whispers of the No. 1 pick in 2007. Greg Oden.
Porter recently had a revealing interview with ESPN’s Marc J. Spears for The Undefeated where he discussed his initial back injury that flared up his junior year of high school. Porter told Spears that a therapist he declined to name made the injury worse during his short time at Mizzou.
“At Mizzou I kept seeing more chiropractors, and I remember one chiropractor did an adjustment and the pain moved from my back to my hips, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Porter said. “And the chiropractor was like, ‘It’s new muscles turning on it.’ And then it stayed with me for like three days, and I noticed my leg getting a little smaller … and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’
“So I tried to jump at practice on my left leg and I couldn’t jump as high. And so that’s when I knew something was really messed up, and that was like the day before our first game against Iowa State. So that was the scariest thing ever.”
TWO TIGERS IN SUMMER LEAGUE
Meanwhile, also in Summer League action, former Mizzou and CBC guard Jordan Barnett is playing for the San Antonio Spurs. Against Memphis on Tuesday, Barnett scored nine points in 22 minutes and had this vicious dunk.
Barnett scored three points in nine minutes Wednesday against Utah. The Spurs play Orlando on Friday on NBA TV and then head to Vegas next week and open against Charlotte on Sunday on ESPN2. Barnett went undrafted last year and played for Milwaukee’s G League team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, averaging 5.4 points in 35 games.
On Friday, the Charlotte Hornets announced that former Missouri guard Kassius Robertson will play for its Summer League team in Las Vegas. The Hornets play the Warriors Friday night in Vegas.
Back to the Spurs. Former Mizzou forward DeMarre Carroll signed with San Antonio after a couple years in Brooklyn. Carroll played some of the best basketball of his career during his time in Atlanta playing under former Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer, so San Antonio clearly knows what it’s adding in the 32-year-old forward. Carroll has bounced around between eight NBA teams since he was a first-round pick in 2009, but he’s among Mizzou’s most productive NBA players in history. He’s sixth in career NBA points among MU players (behind only Larry Drew, Anthony Peeler, Jordan Clarkson, Steve Stipanovich and Keyon Dooling), second in rebounds, third in steals, third in blocks and fourth in minutes and games played.
SOPHIE WARMS UP
So much for that scoring slump. Phoenix Mercury rookie Sophie Cunningham broke out and scored 19 points in a win over Indiana last week. Cunningham had scored just four points in her first six WNBA games before catching fire against the Fever.
“It was good for her to see the ball go in,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello told the Arizona Republic after the game. “That’s the Sophie I know from college. It’s all about confidence. She had to ask for a sub, she was playing that hard. She was nearly dying out there. It was a fantastic effort, I’m very proud of her.”
Here’s quite the compliment for the rookie from Mizzou: “It’s not easy to come to the WNBA and scored 19 as a rookie and make it look easy,” Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi told the Arizona Republic. “I told her, ‘Sophie, I don’t even care how many points you scored today, your effort and energy changed the game.’ And it’s done that multiple times for us. Just her physical presence lifts our whole team, and today she was knocking down shots. All the things you thought could be potential when you watch her in college is actually reality.”
At the conclusion of the WNBA season, Cunningham will head down under and play for the Melbourne Boomers of the WNBL in Australia.
Missouri hasn’t announced yet but baseball coach Steve Bieser has added some experience to his staff with the addition of Todd Butler as hitting coach, Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball first reported. Butler was Wichita State’s head coach for the past six years and previously was an SEC assistant at Arkansas for eight seasons. He’s also been an assistant at Alabama and served as head coach at McNeese State. He replaces Lance Rhodes, the new head coach at Southern Illinois.
• Mizzou baseball will add some much-needed muscle to its nonconference schedule next year when the Tigers play in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic. The three-day, six-team, nine-game tournament will take place from Feb. 28 – March 1, 2020 at the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park. The field is SEC teams Arkansas, LSU and Mizzou and Big 12 teams Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas. The Tigers will play each of the Big 12 teams.
• Four of the five Mizzou players taken in the MLB draft have signed contracts and started their minor league careers. The one exception is the MU player who was drafted highest: outfielder Kameron Misner. The Miami Marlins drafted the junior with the No. 35 overall pick and the first pick in the the competitive balance round. Misner and Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday, the No. 4 overall pick, are the highest drafted players who haven’t been signed — and both were taken by the Marlins. The deadline for the Marlins and their picks to sign is July 12.
In his first and only start for the Staten Island Yankees in the New York Penn League, T.J. Sikkema pitched three scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
Pitcher Cam Dulle is 2-0 with a save in four appearances for the Johnson City Cardinals in the Rookie Appalachian League.
Pitcher Jacob Cantleberry has made two appearances for Arizona League Dodgers.
Shortstop Chris Cornelius is 1 for 3 for the Gulf Coast League Phillies.