ST. LOUIS — Michael Porter Jr. is back.
The star Missouri freshman will return to the basketball court Thursday when the Tigers open the SEC Tournament.
“Yes. He’s prepared to play,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said Wednesday. He said Porter will not start but will play an undetermined amount of minutes.
Martin said Porter told him Tuesday that he was ready to play. “The great thing about him was he said, ‘Coach, I want to help the team.’ ”
Asked if Porter could help with ball handling, given the turnover troubles of this Mizzou team, Martin laughed and nodded: “Yes he can. He can.”
Martin said Porter still needs to adjust to live basketball.
“Is he 100 percent? Probably not. … But he’s game ready,” Martin said.
The Tigers play Wednesday night’s Georgia-Vanderbilt winner around 2:25 p.m. Thursday at the Scottrade Center. If Mizzou, the No. 5 seed, wins, it would play No. 4 seed Kentucky on Friday in the SEC quarterfinals.
Porter has missed all but two minutes of the season after having back surgery in Dallas in November.
Porter did not play in the regular-season finale against Arkansas after Martin said earlier that week that the decision to play would be Porter’s if he felt good enough after getting a few more practices under his belt.
Porter was cleared for all basketball activities last month and was visibly present with the team throughout warmups in its recent road games at Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
But when the team jogged out of the tunnel each time, the 6-foot-10 freshman emerged in street clothes instead of his uniform.
NBA executives recently told ESPN that it would be in Porter’s best interest to play because he’s fallen out of the top five in most draft projections after being pegged as the No. 1 overall pick in the preseason.
Martin previously said if Porter were to return, there would be no set minutes for him because it’s the postseason and the team barely has any depth. He added that whenever Porter played, he’ll play “until he’s exhausted” or when he needs a break.
“There’s no minimums,” Martin said previously. “We’re playing him. We’re trying to win games.”