CHAMPAIGN -- The Illini basketball program has been due for a break to go their way, and they got a huge gift of good news on Wednesday as 6-foot-11 center Mike Thorne Jr. was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.
Thorne started seven games for the Illini prior to tearing the meniscus in his left knee against Iowa State on Nov. 28. After surgery and rehab, Thorne returned against Indiana on Jan. 19. But he suffered setbacks after that, and he did not play the rest of the season.
There was a high level of doubt surrounding the possibility for Thorne to get another year. The NCAA guidelines for obtained a medical redshirt dictate that the injury must occur in the first half of the season, and it must be incapacitating. Since Thorne played against Indiana, those seemed like long odds.
But Illinois pursued the waiver and argued that there were extraordinary circumstances in this case. The ruling on Wednesday marked a win in that fight.
"We are thrilled for Mike," Groce said in a statement. "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."
Thorne expressed his excitement on his Instagram.
"I first of all would like to thank God for giving me another opportunity to play basketball for the University of Illinois. I would also like to thank (the) NCAA for approving my redshirt," Thorne wrote. "Finally, I would like to thank Coach Groce, his staff, Illini Nation, and my family for all their support and encouragement. #Illini #WeWillWin"
Throne averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the eight games he played last season. His return to next year's roster is invaluable - given Illinois' struggles to rebound and control the paint in his absence.
There is no doubt the Illini will suit up one of the best centers in the Big Ten this fall.