Minutes before Missouri’s first official men’s basketball practice, freshman forward Jontay Porter found himself off the court, out of his comfort zone and tumbling to the ground.
The amiable 17-year-old walked onto the Mizzou Arena floor, and before he could step inside the court’s lines, freshman guard C.J. Roberts started defending him. Roberts squatted and pressed his body against Porter, who was near a set of folding chairs. Porter threw up a fadeaway shot that missed, and his momentum carried him backward, over a chair that fell to the ground with him. When the younger Porter brother on this hyped Mizzou team stood up, he called a foul.
Roberts’ pressure defense was in good fun, but the moment said a bit about Porter, who has had to integrate himself into this roster after reclassifying late in the summer. He already feels comfortable around his teammates — enough so to smile when one of them knocked him over a chair — and he is at his best when he can use his versatile skill set, rather than be an isolation player.
“He’s such a fun player to play with,” said his older brother, Michael Porter Jr. “He’ll pass when you’re open. He’ll rebound. He’ll block shots. He really does everything.”
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Coach Cuonzo Martin said Jontay Porter’s transition into college has been smooth as a result. He can affect a game in different ways, which allows him to feel comfortable and adjusted at the college level even if his shot isn’t connecting or his passes are a touch off. The 6-foot-11 forward can shoot from outside, but on this team he might be more valuable as a rebounder and passer.
When the Porter brothers were toddlers, their dad, now an assistant coach at Missouri, began putting them through ball handling drills. The result is two young men nearing 7 feet tall who are comfortable dribbling and stepping away from the basket while also possessing the advantages that come with their height.
During Jontay’s first workouts with the Tigers, he settled for threes and rushed shots, Jordan Barnett said. Jontay realized then that his conditioning needed improvement. And now, Barnett said, “he’s definitely come eons in that regard.”
So the Tigers see him attacking the paint more and, according to graduate transfer Kassius Robertson, showing the greatest hustle on the team. Jontay, perhaps still adjusting, was surprised to hear that compliment. He’s still a freshman who misses his mom cooking for him and doing his laundry.
“That’s the thing with college basketball: It’s hard to be effective when you can only do one thing,” Robertson said. “And Jontay, he doesn’t suffer from that problem.”
Jontay’s passing has impressed teammates most, although they can’t decide what’s best about it. Robertson said the freshman is best passing from the post. Barnett mentioned Jontay’s ability to drive before “he fits passes into the tightest windows and gets them through and gets assists.”
Martin said his team’s early practices will focus on defense and testing mental toughness, the latter of which might not fully reveal itself — especially from a late-arriving freshman — until games start. For now, though, Jontay seems adjusted. Ready to score, pass, rebound, dive for a ball or fall over a chair.