Michael Porter Jr.'s season -- and Missouri's hope -- is gone after two minutes

Porter to undergo back surgery, likely out for season (1:33)

Dalen Cuff and Chris Spatola react to the news that Michael Porter Jr. will have back surgery and weigh the highly touted recruit's options with the NBA draft. (1:33)

It all ended before it ever started.

Michael Porter Jr., the basketball savant who'd come to lift Missouri from its misery, is now sidelined for three to four months -- mostly likely the entire season -- due to a back injury that will require surgery, per the school's stunning announcement on Tuesday, the same day the program flew to Orlando, Florida, for Thanksgiving weekend's Advocare Invitational tournament.

Porter posted a Bible verse and an "I'll be back" message after the news broke, and the school's statement said the No. 2 recruit in the 2017 class, per ESPN.com, is expected to make a full recovery.

All involved know, however, that Porter's return will probably come in the NBA.

Now, a Missouri fan base that endured an eight-win campaign last year and watched its Michael Porter Jr.-less Tigers get pummeled on the road by Utah over the weekend -- and nearly upset by Division II Emporia State on Monday -- now wonders what's next.

Perhaps more pain. Because when you're in that pool of teams that rarely steals one-and-done stars like Porter, there is never a guarantee you'll taste this once-in-a-generation moment again.

In March, Cuonzo Martin left Cal to revitalize a Missouri program that sits just two hours from his childhood home of East St. Louis, Illinois, a city once peppered with crime and poverty that basketball helped the school's new head coach escape.

He soon hired Michael Porter Sr. Then, Michael Porter Jr. -- who'd previously committed to Washington when his father was on that staff -- signed, too. Jontay Porter, a top-25 recruit in the 2018 class, reclassified to play with his big brother and finalize a top-10 class for Martin.

A dream before the nightmare.

Michael Porter Jr. was the most important domino in that sequence, the reason Missouri had returned to the national map for the first time since Frank Haith's controversial tenure.

In late September, I flew to Columbia to sit down with Porter the week before Missouri football's 51-14 loss to Auburn. Although disgruntled football fans streamed out of Faurot Field, the anticipation of Porter's first game had given the community hope.

Those downtrodden fans had a new comeback: Yeah, we're struggling in football, but wait until you see us on a basketball court.

Porter told me he wanted to rebuild Missouri basketball and lead the program to the Final Four. He'd lived in Columbia while his father worked for his Aunt Robin Pingeton, the Missouri women's basketball coach and his mother, Lisa Porter's, sister, during Haith's best years and wanted fans to feel that again.

He also told me he yearned to unite a campus divided by racial tension that preempted historic lows for freshman enrollment this year. Hundreds of staffers have been fired as a result of the financial loss from the low enrollment, and unused dorms have become temporary hotels the school now rents to visitors. The University of Missouri needed Porter and everything his signing promised.

In the September practices I attended, Porter flew around the court, hit 3-pointers like free throws and glided above the rim for SportsCenter-worthy dunks.

School officials and students alike snuck into Mizzou Arena to see the prodigy during those closed sessions.

Earlier that week, men and women had threatened fire codes and flooded a local community college's gym during the state's high school coaching clinic to see Porter and the Tigers practice. They'd blocked the exits, purchased all the nachos and bottled waters on a 100-degree day and turned into amateur paparazzi as they snapped shots of the freshman phenom.

That night, 24 hours before the Auburn football game, Missouri fans danced to '90s hip-hop and gulped pints of their favorite IPAs at Deuce Pub & Pit, a local sports bar frequented before big matchups. In that festive atmosphere, you would have never known Missouri football was headed for a 1-3 start. Porter did that.

When I returned to Columbia to work the sideline as a reporter on the SEC Network for the team's home opener against Iowa State on Nov. 10, Mizzou Arena had transformed. You could only hear the roar in the hours prior to Porter's debut.

National reporters who hadn't visited that building in years flew into the dot of a local airport to see Porter. NBA scouts scrambled to find food before tipoff.

Then two minutes into his first -- and perhaps only -- game as a Division I athlete, Porter went to the bench.

Those fans had no idea they'd witnessed a mirage.

What happened? All in the building wondered aloud. Confusion ensued.

Martin initially said Porter had a hip injury. Weeks later, he said Porter had a leg injury.

On Tuesday, the school announced Porter needed back surgery that will likely end his time as a collegiate athlete.

"Our top priority as a program is the well-being of our student-athletes, so Michael beginning this process to be 100 percent healthy is important to all of us," Martin said in a statement released by the school. "Our focus has been on Michael's well-being, just like every other player in our locker room. We will continue to work every day to build Mizzou Basketball into a program to be proud of. We're preparing now for a trip that is a tremendous opportunity. I'm excited to get after it in Orlando."

Missouri had the talent to regain the stature the program had lost under former coach Kim Anderson.

Yes, the SEC is tough, but Porter, a collection of veterans and a top-10 recruiting class had a chance to compete for that league title.

The Tigers could have made a run to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. Maybe, in the right pairings, they'd win a game or two.

Nothing felt unreasonable with the 6-foot-10 Porter on the roster.

On Tuesday, that vision changed.

So those same fans who celebrated Porter a month ago will find a seat at their local pubs for a different reason.

Because everything pointed toward success.

But that moment is gone now. And just like Porter, it may never return.