(ST. CHARLES, Mo.) – “In retrospect, if I was going to pick a kid, I should have picked one of my own.”
Paul Maples sat on the couch in his suburban St. Louis home Tuesday and watched his twin three-year-old boys play.
“Look at them,” he said. “When do you think one of them is going to go out with an injury? Not any time in the next six to seven years at least.”
A few hours earlier, Maples realized his mistake, and by dinnertime he had not recovered from the news.
“Listen, I know it was probably not the best idea to gamble an entire year of my happiness on an 18-year-old basketball recruit–”
“A Mizzou recruit!” his wife, Nancy, called from an adjacent room.
“Eighteen-year-old Mizzou recruit,” Maples corrected himself. “But I think any guy would have done it. It was a lock. I’ve staked much more on much longer shots than this.”
In mid-August of 2017, Maples decided he was going to base all of his happiness in 2018 on star basketball recruit Michael Porter Jr., a young phenom who the entire basketball world expected to be one of the next great NBA stars.
“He did it so casually,” Nancy said. “We were sitting there in the park watching our children chase ducks. I’d just leaned over and kissed him on the neck. He smiled and sighed like he’d just had a great day. And he said–I’m serious, he said this–‘Honey, it just feels so good to know Michael’s coming. Nothing is going to make me happier in 2018.'”
Nancy admitted that she warmed to the idea. Her husband was lighter on his feet, bounded out of bed in the morning, and was kinder to the entire family than she had seen him since Gary Pinkel was Missouri’s football coach.
“I rationalized it,” she said. “If it was going to make him happy, if it was going to make life around here a little more livable, if it meant he would pay attention to us after March Madness, then I was all-in, too. I’m embarrassed to say I got caught up in it, too.”
Nancy picked at her Mizzou jersey and looked at her children. “I’m ashamed.”
Tuesday afternoon, the University of Missouri announced that Porter was going to have back surgery and would be out for the season. For a star who was expected to be a one-and-done player, the surgery could mean Porter never plays another minute at Mizzou Arena.
“So, I guess that’s it,” Maples said, half-heartedly tossing a ball in the general direction of his son. “Catch, Caleb…”
“That’s Kyle, Paul,” his wife said.
“Whatever,” he said. “Doesn’t matter.”
Maples said he’s learned his lesson.
“From now on, I’m going to find happiness in these people right here,” he said. “They may not play ball, but at least…”
He trailed off.
“At least what?” Nancy said.
Maples looked back from the television. “You see that Bailey kid? Linebacker out of Texas City? Put him back there, and our defense has a chance in the fall. Then if Drew Lock stays for a year and keeps his form–and hell, let’s be honest, the SEC East is a garbage fire anyway–we could be playing for championship by this time next year, so I guess, if we could just make sure Bailey keeps his commitment…”