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Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. says he's ready for Thursday's game

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Porter to return for SEC tournament (1:44)

Missouri's star freshman Michael Porter Jr. is set to play in the SEC tournament after missing nearly the entire season with a back injury. (1:44)

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri freshman and projected NBA draft lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. is prepared to play when the Tigers compete in the second round of the SEC tournament here on Thursday, according to coach Cuonzo Martin.

Martin said Porter told him Tuesday that he felt good and was ready to go. Porter won't start, and Martin said he'll be surprised if Porter plays 30 minutes.

"He could play 20 to 25 minutes," Martin said. "It's really how I feel, the flow of the game, and how he feels. I don't have it in my head to say, 'He's going to play this many minutes, and that's it.' ... But I'd be surprised if he played 30 minutes.

"If he's healthy, we're rolling. Unless the trainer or Mike says otherwise, he's playing."

Porter has been sidelined since the first game of the season against Iowa State, in which he played only two minutes, scoring two points. He underwent back surgery shortly thereafter -- a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal disks that the school said at the time would "likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season."

The 6-foot-10 freshman was cleared by doctors to play in mid-February, and he has practiced with the team a handful of times since. His status has been a matter of great debate since his return, with veteran forward Kevin Puryear calling it the "million-dollar question."

"The mentality he had when he left, you want that mentality: to score and be a competitive person," Martin said.

Even without Porter, Missouri managed to go 20-11 in the regular season, finishing with a winning conference record (10-8) for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

Missouri will next face Georgia, a 78-62 winner over Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

Bulldogs coach Mark Fox said he'll have to keep preparation for facing Porter generic because of the unknown.

"The challenge is I'm not sure what position they'll play him at," Fox said. "He's a versatile player."

Porter, whom Fox called a top-five-caliber NBA draft pick, will likely play power forward, but Martin said he is capable of playing small forward and shooting guard -- and even some point guard.