Fantastic news for Illinois Basketball. Former Charlotte center Mike Thorne Jr. has announced that his next destination will be Champaign; he selected the Illini over Kansas, Kentucky, and Pittsburgh. Thorne has one year of eligibility remaining and he'll be able to play immediately in 2015-16 as a graduate transfer. Thorne averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and shot 53..4% from the field for the 49ers during the 2014-15 season.
Statement from John Groce:
"Mike is an experienced, productive player with tremendous work ethic. He will make an immediate impact in our frontcourt with his ability to score 1-on-1 in the paint and his rebounding prowess. Mike showed great progression throughout his career at Charlotte. He has a burning desire to get better, which really excites you as a coach. He is hungry to win and help lead our team, and will be an excellent fit in our program."
So how will Thorne fit in with Illinois' 2015-16 roster? I think there's an extremely good chance that he'll be the team's starting center. The Illini will obviously have Darius Paul after his one year absence from the team, but he hasn't played a single minute of high-major basketball and is a huge unknown--the same can be said for redshirt freshman Michael Finke. So even if Thorne isn't the starter, he'll be seeing significant playing as the backup.
Projected 2015-16 Depth Chart
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Tracy Abrams (SR)||Kendrick Nunn (JR)||Malcolm Hill (JR)||Leron Black (SO)||Mike Thorne Jr. (SR)|
|Jaylon Tate (JR)||Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR)||Aaron Jordan (FR)||Darius Paul (JR)||Michael Finke (FR)|
|D.J. Williams (FR)||Maverick Morgan (JR)|
Players will, of course, be playing multiple positions, but expect something similar to this.
The program now has one scholarship remaining for the 2015-16 season. Marcus LoVett is the only remaining 2015 recruit that the staff is targeting and this addition should do nothing but help Illinois' case. Villanova transfer guard Dylan Ennis is also an option; the Illini made his top eight teams and, like Thorne, he'd have one year of eligibility as a graduate transfer.
An added bonus of this addition that a lot of people will overlook is that it will address some class balance issues. Thorne will only be with the team for one year which means there will now be two scholarships available for the 2016 recruiting class--there would only have been one open if the team opted to take a four year player instead. If that doesn't make much sense, you can click here to see a better illustration of the scholarship situation.
The addition of Thorne is a huge boost for the Illini. The front court was expected to be a glaring weakness going forward and Illinois can now extend their search into the next recruiting cycle. Not only that, but it allows the Illini to keep up with the ongoing Big Ten arms race. Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland, and Ohio State have all reeled in some high-profile additions over the past few weeks; Illinois doesn't belong in the conference's top tier, but Thorne should solidify the program's status in the next level of teams.