ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri standout Michael Porter Jr. will return from back surgery to play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Thursday, marking his first time in a game since the season opener.

Coach Cuonzo Martin announced the change in Porter's status on Wednesday, a day before the fifth-seeded Tigers (20-11) open against either Georgia or Vanderbilt in the second round.

The 6-foot-10 Porter, the top prep prospect in the country last season, has been out since playing only two minutes in the Tigers' season-opening win over Iowa State. He underwent surgery in November and was expected to miss the rest of the season .

After being cleared to practice almost two weeks ago, Porter showed enough progress that he and Martin felt comfortable putting the forward into a game situation.

"He will not start the game," Martin said. "I don't know how many minutes he'll play; we'll play it just like he's a part of the team."

Porter averaged 36.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per game as a senior in high school in Washington, and he was a McDonald's All-American after signing with Missouri. He was part of a talented signing class in Martin's first year, one that included Porter's younger brother, Jontay, and has helped the Tigers improve from only nine wins a year ago.

They've improved despite Michael Porter's extended absence, so much so that they are hopeful of the program's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013.

Porter's recovery time was expected to be three to four months, and few expected him back this season. Whether he returns or leaves for the NBA is another question.

For now, the SEC, and the rest of the country, will get its first extended look at what Porter can do on the collegiate level — even if Martin isn't quite sure how many minutes the talented freshman will play.

"I don't have nothing in my head to say, 'Once we get to this many minutes, that's it.'" Martin said. "But I'd be surprised if he played 25-30 minutes. I'd be surprised, but you never know."

Martin also made it clear that Porter is capable of playing games on back-to-back days, or even possibly four days in a row if the Tigers were to reach the SEC championship game.

"If he's healthy enough to roll, he's playing," Martin said.

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Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP