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The Daily Illini

Thorne embraces his age for Illinois

Matt Gertsmeier, Illini hoops columnist

Mike Thorne Jr. received a late birthday present this year.

The 6-foot-11 center celebrates his birthday on May 17, but on May 18, he received a gift that most people can’t get enough of — time.

In Thorne’s case, it was extra time. He considers May 18 one of the greatest days of his life because he was granted one more year of eligibility.

Thorne  spent four years at UNC Charlotte, playing three full seasons. He transferred to Illinois for his fifth year. After only seven games for the Illini, he tore his meniscus in his left knee and needed surgery.

After surgery, Thorne played 16 minutes against Indiana in January, putting up nine points while shooting about 17 percent from the field.

He sat the rest of the season.

“I really wanted to be out there with my teammates, but I shouldn’t have been out there trying to play,” Thorne said. “Luckily I got another year, thanks to the NCAA for seeing my situation and hearing my situation out so I’m just blessed to have another chance.”

With this extra time Thorne has been granted, he realizes his unique situation. Most college basketball players finish their senior season at 21 or 22 years of age. At 23 years old, Thorne is one of the oldest players in the Big Ten and college basketball.

Luckily for Thorne, he’s not alone. Entering his sixth year of eligibility, Thorne still isn’t the oldest player for Illinois. Guard Tracy Abrams has him beat by a year after missing the last two seasons due to injury and being granted one more year of eligibility.

Despite Abrams on the roster, it still doesn’t take away the fact Thorne feels like a grandpa.

“I definitely feel old,” Thorne said. “I’m like ‘man, I’m still in college?’ I guess God made it happen for a reason, but I feel like a grandpa. You got Te’Jon (Lucas), he’s 17, I’m 23 and Tracy’s (Abrams) 24, like wow, we are getting old.”

Thorne has certainly embraced his role as a “grandpa.” He’s even gone a step further and has started hanging out with grandpas. Whenever he has some extra time on his hands, Thorne can be found a local ponds and lakes in the area fishing.

“My dad used to take me ever since I was two or three years old, so I’ve always had an attachment to it,” Thorne said. “Since the season started, (I’ve) been extra busy, so (I haven’t gone) as much, but this summer I used to go about once a week. I used to go with (Michael) Finke’s grandpa.”

Thorne isn’t the only Illini who has embraced his role as one of the team’s elders. His younger teammates have used him and Abrams to their advantage.

Sophomore Jalen Coleman-Lands has noticed this.

“It’s worked out to our benefit,” Coleman-Lands said. “Being that we do have older guys, they know the expectations, and they know the standards. That connection we have off the court will hopefully transpire on the court.”

In the end, only time will tell if Thorne is ready to go after taking more than a year off. In his eight games for Illinois last season, he averaged about 13 points and nine rebounds per game.

With his recovery time and off-season, Thorne has made strides to be even better. His work in the weight room and gym has definitely seen results.

“I’ve never coached a guy that’s 6-foot-11, 290 and under 10 percent body fat,” head coach John Groce said. “He’s a specimen, and now he needs to learn how to use that at both ends of the floor.”

gertsme2@dailyillini.com

@MattGertsmeier

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