John Groce lands Charlotte transfer Thorne for Illini basketball

For the first time in a couple of months, the Illinois basketball program received some good news on Saturday morning. 

According to a CBS Sports report, Charlotte fifth-year transfer Mike Thorne has committed to Illinois and head coach John Groce. The 6-foot-11, 270-pound big man will be eligible to play immediately, and will play one season for the Illini.

Thorne averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds last season at Charlotte, making him one of the most desired transfers in the country. He chose the Illini over Kansas, Kentucky and Pittsburgh. 

Early Saturday during a visit to the Illinois campus, Thorne posted an Instagram picture of him riding an orange Illini scooter with State Farm Center photoshopped in the background. The caption read “Let’s Ride.” 

Groce has taken criticism from fans in the past for failing to remedy frontcourt concerns on the recruiting trail, but he’s silenced those doubters (at least temporarily) by landing Thorne. Thorne gives the Illini an established post presence and a back-to-the-basket game that the Illinois program hasn’t had since Meyers Leonard left for the NBA in 2012.

He’s a banger in the paint and will compete with fellow transfer Darius Paul, redshirt freshman Michael Finke and incoming junior Maverick Morgan for the starting center position.

At the very least, Thorne gives Illinois much-needed depth in the post, especially in the wake of sophomore forward Austin Colbert’s recent decision to transfer. But Illini fans are justified in expecting a significant impact from Thorne. 

The successful recruitment of Thorne aligns with some internal tweaks Groce has instituted within the Illinois program. According to a source, Groce’s approach has changed drastically since the Illini’s ugly collapse at the end of last season. Offseason workouts have been far more grueling than in the past, and his demeanor is noticeably different at this point in the year. 

Groce’s tweaks were also apparent during Thorne’s visit, as he organized more team-oriented events around his guest than on previous visits. According to Thorne, that aspect of the visit had a positive effect. 

“I just knew Illinois was the right place for me,” Thorne told ESPN. “It’s in the Big Ten, and I loved the family atmosphere.”

Groce obviously knows the way last season ended was unacceptable to Illinois fans, and back-to-back NIT appearances have likely led to the adjustments and more rigorous regiments. It’s encouraging to see that Groce is willing to adjust in the midst of failure.

Basketball season is seven months away, but Thorne should give fans a reason for optimism heading into what could be a make-or-break year for Groce.  

Alex is a junior in AHS.

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