Illinois center Mike Thorne Jr. will be back for a sixth year.
The Illini announced Wednesday that Thorne, who played in only eight games last season after transferring in from Charlotte, received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and will suit up in orange and blue for the 2016-17 campaign.
"We are thrilled for Mike," Illinois head coach John Groce said in the announcement. "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 was supposed to play a major role on last season's Illini team, which entered the season with little front-court depth and then saw both Thorne and forward Leron Black miss the majority of the season with injuries.
He ended up appearing in just those eight games: the season's first seven and one game against Indiana in January. Thorne averaged 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds in his limited action.
That lone appearance during Big Ten play was the major question mark when it came to whether Thorne would receive a sixth year, as the NCAA often requires a player not play during the second half of a season if he is going to earn a medical hardship waiver. But in Thorne's case, the NCAA awarded him the waiver anyway.
Thorn's return is a big deal for the Illini, as he showed quite a bit of promise, twice recording double-doubles in the early going last season and scoring a combined 46 points in the season's first two games. Given how much Illinois struggled in the front court and rebounding the basketball last season, having a 6-foot-11 veteran back in the fold is nothing but good news.
Thorne's up-in-the-air status since the season ended in March was one of multiple roster mysteries for the Illini, a couple of which still remain unresolved. Black was suspended for the first four regular-season games of the upcoming season after he pleaded guilty following his arrest for pulling a knife on a nightclub bouncer in February. Guards Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate remain indefinitely suspended following their unrelated March arrests for domestic battery, though an update on Nunn could be forthcoming after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery on Wednesday.