Illinois' basketball program received a huge boost with the news of Mike Thorne Jr staying put for his sixth year as a Fighting Illini. The NCAA granted Thorne with a medical hardship waiver, making him eligible for his sixth year in the 2016-17 season. Last season he only played seven games before suffering an injury. The hard hitting aggressive center averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in a total of eight games last season on 47 percent shooting.
Last season, he started with a 25 point debut and such promise, but it was ultimately derailed by injuries. After seven games, he tore his meniscus, causing him to miss 11 straight games. He tried to save his season by coming back early, putting up nine points and nine rebounds on 1-6 shooting in just 16 minutes, but re-aggravated his injury. He missed the final 15 games as he was shut down for the remainder of the season.
He spent his previous four seasons in Charlotte averaging 9.6 points and seven rebounds per game in his 63 starts shooting 52 percent on the floor. He ranked No. 5 in the Conference USA in rebounding.
What does this mean for the Fighting Illini?
Thorne Jr. can prove to be a focal point in the Illinois offense with a near empty front court. Illinois' back court currently holds 10 guards on the active roster out of the 16 spots, with plenty of shuffling to happen in the near future. Shooting guard and All-Big Ten player Malcolm Hill led the Illinois squad with an incredible season averaging 18.1 points with 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 44 percent shooting. The sophomore guard and potential star Jalen Coleman-Lands averaged 10.2 points on 41 percent shooting and should fit in nicely in a growing role as sharpshooter Kendrick Nunn, who averaged 15.5 points with 39 percent three-point shooting, waits on his suspension after being charged with misdemeanor battery.
The injury bug bit the Illinois basketball team as Thorne Jr. was just one of many key injuries that took place last year. Floor general Tracy Abrams will take up the offense once again after tearing his ACL in his right knee before the season started. The 6 foot 7 inch forward Leron Black also missed much of last season due to injury, playing in only seven games and starting for just two of them.
Maverick Morgan, the only other center on the roster outside of Thorne Jr., played admirably with 8.3 point and 3.5 rebounds per game, but it remains Mike Thorne Jr's key nevertheless. With only three players taller than 6 foot 7 inches on the team, expect him to have a huge season if he remains healthy.
This team is full of play makers and shooters, and with Thorne Jr.'s presence in the paint, this team can have a very quick turnaround after an abysmal 5-13 record last season.