MENDON — The Missouri women’s basketball team has two new faces, South Carolina transfer Haley Troup and top-50 recruit Grace Berg, ready to make a big entrance in 2018-19.
It might also have to deal with an early exit.
At the Mizzou Coaches Caravan stop Tuesday night at Northwestern R-1 School, Tigers coach Robin Pingeton confirmed that Cierra Porter is mulling medical retirement before her senior season.
Porter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in eighth grade and suffers from early-onset arthritis in the joint, which causes bone-on-bone friction and swelling after games and practices. Pingeton said there's a concern that another season could affect Porter's quality of life down the road.
“We’ve talked a lot lately. That knee is just not in good shape,” said Pingeton, who is also Porter's aunt. “Really trying to help her make a good decision on, is this something she pushes through for one more year? Or, as hard as it is, is this not a good situation from a health standpoint?”
Porter joined the program in 2015 after a standout high school career at Rock Bridge. Over the last three seasons, Porter has played in 94 of Missouri’s 97 games while averaging 25.6 minutes, 10.6 points and seven rebounds.
Porter's knee was a problem going back to her freshman year at Missouri, when it — along with a littany of other ailments — kept her out of a number of practices throught the season.
“I don’t think her knees had ever been great,” Pingeton said. “She's had issues but nothing that had ever been a red flag for us. We knew what was in front of us. Such a talented young lady. I think over time you look at our practices, even though she was limited, she was going against het scout team and the physicality of the SEC and the pace of the game. Over time, it just kind of wears down a little bit.”
Porter’s stats regressed last season across the board, though Jordan Frericks’ return to the post after missing all of 2016-17 likely had a role in Porter’s diminished numbers. Still, in her junior year, Porter played fewer minutes (24.4 down from 29.5), scored fewer points (9.8 down from 13.2), grabbed fewer rebounds (7.6 down from 8.1) and shot worse from the 3-point line (25.0 percent down from 34.8 percent) and free-throw line (77.5 percent down from 81.0 percent).
Though she was a huge factor in Missouri’s wins over South Carolina and Tennessee last year, Porter’s efficiency dipped sharply over the last month of the season. In the Tigers’ last five games, Porter averaged 8.1 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the field.
Her balky knees rarely came up in interviews, and Porter would typically downplay notions that she was hurt or fatigued at the end of the year.
“She handled it so well. Never complained about it. Always tried to push through,” Pingeton said. “It’s like playing — you’re moving bone-on-bone. There’s a lot of discomfort with that. It’s pretty remarkable what she’s been able to do so far.”
Porter will graduate in May and has plans for a summer internship, Pingeton said, which would limit her participation in summer workouts anyway. Pingeton said they’ll make a decision on whether she’ll play next year “sooner rather than later.”
“It’s emotional, as you could imagine,” Pingeton said. “She’s a big part of what we’ve done. We love her to death, and she’s invested and helped us build this program. Just trying to figure out what’s in her best interest.
“If she does come back, we’ve got to really be mindful of that mileage. That’s hard. She’s an elite-level kid. She can manage it. She has managed it really well. If she decides this isn’t in her best interest from a quality of life, 100 percent support on that because she’s really poured into our program over the last three years.”
IN NO RUSH: The Missouri men’s basketball team is out of open scholarships, technically.
The signing of Dru Smith took the final open one away, unless Jontay Porter stays in the NBA draft.
If that happens, what will Missouri do with that scholarship?
In a press conference April 19, coach Cuonzo Martin said he expected to use all 13 scholarships.
Things change quickly in recruiting, though.
Missouri missed on top-50 point guard Courtney Ramey and 6-foot-7 forward Blake Hinson last week.
Now, Martin appears to be in no rush.
Martin said Tuesday he has no plans to use the scholarship right now.
“We look at every option, but we aren’t going to take a guy just to take a guy. I think that’s important, they have to fit what we are trying to do,” Martin said.
Martin didn’t rule out picking up a transfer in December, but he reiterated that it would have to be a good fit.
“We aren’t rushing into doing anything,” Martin said. “You don’t want a guy that can’t help your program and then all of a sudden you replace a guy moving forward, so he has to fit what we are trying to do.”
Much of Martin’s focus, when discussing the possibility of having an open scholarship, was focused on the future.
“We want to be successful, but that takes time,” Martin said.