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Saturday, Dec 16, 2017
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Call Missouri jinxed, but Michael Porter Jr. injury is its own story

Please repeat after me: There is no such thing as jinxes, hexes, ghosts or cartoonish black clouds looming with personalized curses for select targets.

Honest.

But, boy, are there coincidences — even if some say there is no such thing as those, either.

So it is that on Tuesday, the University of Missouri somehow added to an already remarkable portfolio of rotten, inexplicable and soul-crushing quirks that underscore its athletics history by absorbing yet another kick in the teeth.

At last clarifying the mystery of why would-be basketball program savior Michael Porter Jr. had played just two minutes in four games this season, Missouri announced Porter was about to undergo surgery in Dallas for a "microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs."

The procedure, Missouri added, has a projected recovery time of three to four months and likely will cause him to miss the rest of the season.

With one abrupt statement, the very idea of "rest of the season" hovers heavily — and there's no way to know now if Porter's time at Missouri will have peaked at those two minutes before he goes on to the NBA.

Cue violins and the sad trombone effect for Porter (at least for the foreseeable future) to take his place in Missouri's pantheon of futility with other anticipated transformative figures (see: Tony VanZant), bizarre circumstances (see: Fifth Down; the Flea Kicker) and diabolical adversaries (see: Bert Coan, Hank Nichols, Tyus Edney, etc.).

Then again, in this emotional instant, anyway, this development could occupy a pavilion of its own beyond what VanZant may have been able to do for the then-woeful football program if he hadn't been hurt in a high school all-star game in 1986 …

Or if Colorado and Nebraska hadn't gone on to win football national titles with wins over MU on flukes of fate in those games with their own names …

Or if Nichols hadn't made a controversial call that sabotaged MU's best chance of reaching a Final Four in 1976 …

Or if the ineligible Coan hadn't played a key role for Kansas in beating then-No. 1 Missouri in 1960 when a victory would have meant at least a shared national football title for the Tigers …

Or if Edney hadn't been able to serpentine through the MU defense with 4.8 seconds left to beat the Tigers in the 1995 NCAA Tournament, helping UCLA ultimately win the national championship.

Those and other misadventures all pierced in their own way, of course.

And any one of them going the other way might have changed a number of things — not the least of which would have been the forever snake-bit feeling that immediately surfaces in those who follow the program when something else goes awry.

This, though, is a different sort of puncturing, because of the sheer buildup that preceded it.

In the wake of Missouri firing Kim Anderson after he went 27-68 the past three seasons, in the aftermath of apathy and pessimism that hadn't visited fans of the men's basketball program in half a century, here came new coach Cuonzo Martin and Porter soon thereafter.

Albeit with a boost from Martin hiring his father and the Porter family's past in Columbia, the top recruit in the nation was coming to Mizzou.

Soon followed by a star-studded group that included Porter's brother, Jontay, the class was considered in the top five in the nation.

The effect was one bordering on hysteria before the elder Porter even practiced.

Porter could barely get around town without being swarmed, MU sold 15,600 season tickets (600 more than capacity) and players spoke openly about their goal of being the national champion.

Seldom had perception of any college basketball program been more radically enhanced in between seasons.

It was too good to be true, as it happened — something some no doubt had worried about from the get-go because of the history of heartbreak.

There is not one shred or sliver of good in this, of course.

But life does actually go on.

And it bears mentioning that Missouri's season remains to be played with a group that includes a handful of improved and matured veterans along with Jontay Porter and four-star recruits Jeremiah Tilmon and Blake Harris.

It's tempting now to assume that all that came with the Porter madness is suddenly gone, like a mirage that never happened.

But the rest of the recruiting class and the ticket sales that followed him are very much here, meaning there's no reason Mizzou Arena can't still be a lot more full and galvanizing than it's been even if there's something missing.

Also tangibly present is Martin, who is here to build a program, not a one-hit wonder, and who has lived his life understanding that it's not about what happens to you but how you respond.

So here's the thing:

This is more misery for Missouri, yes, another agonizing turn.

But it's also ultimately its own story with its own possibilities, good, bad or ugly.

And it's up to Martin and his team to treat it as such — instead of simply succumbing to the paranoia of past Mizzou misfortunes and giving life to the sort of thinking that it's impossible for fans to ignore.

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