After heart condition sidelined Johnson, Texas doctors set his return date

Texas' inside game got a much-needed lift Saturday when team doctors cleared freshman forward Gary Johnson to play for the first time this season on Wednesday against TCU.

Johnson had been practicing throughout the season but hadn't been cleared to play in the regular season due to a heart condition. The condition, detected in June, kept him out of conditioning over the summer.

Johnson didn't play in Saturday's 67-66 home loss to Wisconsin. Texas (11-2) entered the game ranked No. 9 with wins at UCLA and over Tennessee in Newark, N.J.

Texas coach Rick Barnes had said throughout the season he was confident Johnson would be cleared once he finished a full evaluation period. He also said Johnson would help the team's rebounding and interior scoring, since it had relied so much on guards D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams.

"After a six-month process of monitoring, testing and evaluation by Dr. James Willerson [president-elect at the Texas Heart Institute and president of University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston], Gary Johnson has been cleared to participate in all physical activities at the University of Texas, including regular-season games, beginning on January 1, 2008," Texas trainer Fred Burnett said in a statement. "Based on the team's schedule, the first game Gary can participate in will be Jan. 2 against TCU."

The Longhorns host Saint Mary's on Jan. 5 and then open Big 12 play at Missouri Jan. 12.

Johnson's interior play should help the Longhorns compete with Kansas and Texas A&M for the Big 12 title.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.