Poised and mature, Jontay Porter carves out big role with Tigers

Seven games into the season, Missouri’s young big man has shown strong on-court intelligence and a versatile skillset.

Jontay Porter boxes out Kansas guard Lagerald Vick on Oct. 22 during the Showdown for Relief.

Jontay Porter grabbed the rebound off a Jordan Geist miss and fired the ball into the corner.

Waiting for it there was junior Kevin Puryear, who was squared up to shoot even before the ball arrived in his hands before calmly nailing a 3-pointer to put the Tigers ahead 58-47 in Sunday night’s Advocare Invitational championship game against West Virginia.

On the next possession, Porter again found Puryear from beyond the arc to extend Missouri’s lead to 12. Three minutes later, Porter put back a Kassius Robertson miss to keep the offense rolling and the Tigers ahead, at least for the time being.

What Missouri needed, Porter provided. That was the story Sunday night, and it was the one that unfolded all weekend in Orlando. In the wake of news that his brother, Michael Porter Jr., would likely miss the remainder of the season after receiving a microdiscectomy of his L3 and L4 spinal discs, Porter has broken out. He averaged 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game in the tournament and controlled the court against teams from St. John’s and West Virginia.

Prior to the weekend, he was always Michael Porter Jr.’s younger brother, at least if you went by the tag placed upon him by any given ESPN commentator. But Jontay Porter has left that tag in Orlando. He’s no longer just Michael Porter Jr.’s younger brother. He is Jontay.

What stands out most about Porter is the confidence he shows on the floor. A true freshman who reclassified from the class of 2018 to join his brother this year at Mizzou, he is young. In fact, when Missouri opened its season on Nov. 10 against Iowa State, Porter was still five days away from turning 18. But despite his youth, Porter’s plays with a high basketball IQ, demonstrating an adeptness for making the extra pass or finding the right positioning on a rebound.

Of the three games the Tigers played in Orlando, Porter made his largest impact against West Virginia, a game in which he made his smallest scoring contribution. Instead, Porter impacted the game on the defensive end and with his passing.

With the way he has performed in Missouri’s first seven games, it’s easy to forget that Porter was supposed to be a senior at Tolton High School this season, competing against other high school seniors.

Puryear, a junior, said as much on Tuesday.

“It’s pretty remarkable what he’s doing at his age; he just turned 18, which I kind of forget about sometimes,” Puryear said. “His maturity level and his poise for how young he is is extremely, extremely remarkable.”

Maturity was the biggest question mark surrounding Porter when he decided to reclassify. Not only would he not be a legal adult by the time the season rolled around, but his late decision to join Missouri in early August had the potential to stunt his transition. But Porter has impressed his teammates with his maturity and the growth he’s shown in the three months since he’s arrived on campus.

“Coming in from high school, it’s kind of easy to go back to those high school ways,” Puryear said. “The way he approaches practice, the way he works is pretty top-notch compared to the way he came in. He’s come a long way in just growing up and being a college guy, so I’m very proud of him for that.”

Senior Jordan Barnett recalls having some concerns about his 17-year-old teammate in August and said that inexperience was an issue at first. Now, when he looks at Porter, he sees a veteran.

“Originally when he first got here, he did definitely have some maturity issues,” Barnett said. “But as you can see now, he’s become an extremely mature player. He’s doing things like a veteran out there. He passes extremely well, he’s not easily rushed at all. He’s a strong finisher, a strong shooter, he’ll hit big shots. That’s all veteran stuff that you wouldn’t expect from an 18-year-old, who, like you said, is supposed to be a senior in high school right now.”

Barnett pointed to Porter’s unusually high basketball IQ and said his “intangibles” have helped guide the young forward in the early going this season.

“He’s a high basketball IQ player; he does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Barnett said. “He just does a lot of veteran stuff, which isn’t really normal for someone his age.”

To go with his on-court intelligence, it’s been Porter’s impressive skillset that has fueled his quick transition to the college game. Equally capable of backing down defenders three years older and knocking down deep 3-pointers, he’s been able to keep opponents guessing with his multidimensional game.

This part of Porter’s game is what impressed Puryear from day one.

“I think it’s his versatility, what he brings to the table as far as rebounding, being able to put the ball on the floor, pass and also shoot the ball as well,” Puryear said. “Just being able to stretch the floor at his size.”

Porter’s ability to shoot, an aspect of his game that was not prominently mentioned before the season, has been on full display thus far. Headed into Thursday’s matchup against UCF, Porter is shooting nearly 49 percent from the field and over 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. He’s also the Tigers’ third-leading foul shooter, shooting 90 percent from the charity stripe.

While he says there isn’t much about Porter that he has been surprised by, head coach Cuonzo Martin said the capability Porter has shown playing on the perimeter has been an unexpected bonus and feels that it’s something that sets his team apart.

“I think when you watch the better teams in college basketball you have multiple guys that can make shots and make good decisions with the basketball,” Martin said. “I think the better you are as a team, it makes teams go at you differently as opposed to if you have two traditional big guys that don’t really shoot the ball. Though they’re talented, it limits probably some of the things that you do can offensively.”

Amid all of the gushing over his early-season performance, Martin also acknowledged that Porter still has plenty of growing to do. But above all else, he is pleased with the complete player he has gotten in his young freshman.

“I think the thing that makes him a good basketball player is that he doesn’t care how many shots he gets, he would rather pass the ball,” Martin said. “He’s a good basketball player and he’s not consumed with scoring the ball. Some guys, their gauge is whether the shot is going in or not, but that’s not his game.”

Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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