Illinois will honor fifth-year center Mike Thorne as part of Senior Day festivities before Sunday's 7 p.m. home finale against Minnesota. But the Illini hope Thorne will get a second Senior Night next season.
Illinois coach John Groce said Saturday that the team will pursue a medical hardship waiver for Thorne, who has played in only eight games this season due to setbacks from surgery to repair a torn meniscus, suffered during a Nov. 28 loss to Iowa State.
"Unfortunately for him, I feel awful because with the setbacks, there's numerous issues he's dealt with there, it's just not in his medical and from a health pespective his best interest to play for the rest of the season," Groce said.
"You never know with waiver processes. That's going to be up to our compliance department, our doctors to make that decision. Our hope certainly is that he gets to participate in two of those (Senior Nights), but I just didn't feel right not giving him the opportunity to not be properly honored tomorrow. He's a great kid, great teammate, so we thought that was the right thing to do."
To be eligible for a medical redshirt waiver from the NCAA, the student-athlete must suffer an incapacitating (or season-ending injury), the student-athlete must play in less than 30 percent of that team's games and the injury must occur prior to the second half of the season.
Thorne, who averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in eight games since transferring from UNC-Charlotte, meets the first two requirements. Whether he meets the third is the question. Thorne suffered the injury in the first half of the season, but he returned to play in a game in the second half of the season. Thorne had nine points and nine rebounds in 16 minutes at Indiana in a 103-69 loss at Indiana on Jan. 19.
"At that point, he was cleared," Groce said. "Obviously, we're not playing him if he's not. He's cleared by the doctors and our trainer."
But Thorne, a Type I diabetic who struggles to recover as quickly from injuries due to decreased blood flow, has missed games due to setbacks from an injury suffered during the first half of the season.
Groce appears to think the Illini have a case for Thorne, who also took a medical redshirt during his first season at UNC-Charlotte.
"Of course we do because his situation is so unique, really unique," Groce said. "I'm not going to get into all the details of that. I've mentioned some of the things publicly before, certainly with the diabetes, the weight, the swelling, all those different things. At this juncture, obviously you don't file that until the end of the year. It's no different than we would with (Tracy Abrams). You're not allowed to file those until the season is over. We'll do that at that time. I'm going to leave that in the hands of (compliance director) Ryan (Squire) and the doctors. Obviously, Mike will have a part of it, and the NCAA.
"I think there's no question -- based on what he's been through, what's happened to him, the information that I have -- that he has a solid case. But at the end of day, I don't make that decision."
Illinois also is expected to pursue medical hardship waivers for sophomore forward Leron Black (who has played just eight games due to a torn mensicus) and senior point guard Tracy Abrams, who suffered a torn Achilles this season. Abrams received a medical hardship waiver after missing the 2014-15 season with a torn ACL.