Wednesday has been a big news day for Fighting Illini basketball! In a fairly stunning decision, the NCAA has granted a sixth year of eligibility to senior center Mike Thorne Jr. as part of a medical hardship request. That means Thorne, who missed huge segments of the 2015-16 season with setbacks to a knee injury, will stay on scholarship and return for another year.
Again, this is a fairly uncharacteristic decision from the NCAA because Thorne's waiver claim was a bit unique. The big man originally suffered an injury to his left meniscus on November 28 against Iowa State and, after completely removing the ligament, he returned on January 19 to face Indiana. However, Thorne suffered a few setbacks afterwards and was subsequently ruled out for the season. The NCAA pretty much always deals in absolutes so an appearance during the second half of a year doesn't typically equate to a successful waiver claim.
But despite playing in only 8 games, the Charlotte transfer proved to be quite a force in the paint for the Fighting Illini. He averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest while maintaining one of the highest usage rates (33.9%) on the team.
#illini were last in the Big Ten in rebounding last year. They won't be next year with Thorne JR. ... and Black.— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) May 18, 2016
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Illinois is an NCAA Tournament team if it gets everyone on the floor. Very capable team.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) May 18, 2016
Statement from John Groce:
"We are thrilled for Mike. He endured a lot of adversity last season, suffering the knee injury after a great start and then having lingering complications that prevented him from being able to return to the court. Now he will get that chance to come back for a sixth year and finish his college career in the way we all envision. The NCAA deserves a ton of credit in this situation, as they have made a decision that is without question in the best interest of the student-athlete."
Illinois is still waiting a NCAA decision for Tracy Abrams' hardship waiver. The senior guard was forced to miss a second-straight season after suffering an Achilles injury, so he'll presumably be returning with Thorne for the 2016-17 campaign.
To see how Thorne's return impacts Illinois' scholarship situation, click here.