College basketball recruiting can sometimes be a guessing game. Two years ago, Andrew Wiggins appeared to be heading to Kentucky, or his parents' alma mater Florida State, before landing in Lawrence.
Two weeks ago, Mike Thorne, Jr. wasn't even on the Jayhawks' radar (at least publicly), and now head coach Bill Self has visited the Charlotte 49er big man twice in less than a week. Matt Scott of 247Sports reported Tuesday morning Thorne is set to visit KU's campus May 1.
Social media has been abuzz on both sides of the coin with Thorne, ranging from the thought he could be a starting center to wondering why a near seven-footer only averages a little more than a half block per game during his career.
Whatever side you are on, there is no arguing that Self and the Jayhawks are making a big push to land him. The Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd confirmed as much Monday.
Bill Self meeting with family of Charlotte center Mike Thorne, Jr., today, @JayhawkSlant reports. Two visits now. KU interest appears high.— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) March 30, 2015
At this point in the recruiting game, when six of the top-10 and eight of the top-20 recruits are still on the board, it becomes a chess games for coaches, and a guessing game for fans.
There is speculation that Self going this hard after Thorne is an indication that he knows he won't land big men Thon Maker or Stephen Zimmerman. But, that's not necessarily true. Dodd reported Friday that at least 40 schools had contacted Thorne almost immediately after he announced his intentions to transfer.
If that is true, it's no surprise Self is trying to make a play early.
And that's exactly what he's doing.
In Dodd's report, he said Pitt scheduled a visit with Thorne last week, while Marquette and Virginia Tech were scheduled for this week. Scott said Illinois is on Thorne's calendar for April 17-18.
Another possibility could be Wake Forest, located in his home state of North Carolina, as head coach Danny Manning has a history of developing big men and turning them in to NBA prospects -- something Thorne is looking for at his final college stop.
There are pros and cons to every recruit, and Thorne is no different. Let's take a look at the good, and not-so good, he would bring to Lawrence should Self land him for the 2015-16 season.
- Thorne is a big man (6-11, 270, but also nimble) and at the very least would be a wide body in the paint for KU. His 7.3 rebounds per game last year (in just 26.1 minutes per) would have ranked first on the Jayhawks.
- He shoots close to the basket, therefore he shoots a high percentage -- 50% freshman year, 50.8 sophomore season, and 53.4% this past year.
- He significantly improved each season. His points and rebounds went from 1.8 and 1.4 freshman year, to 9.1 and 6.7 two years ago, before finishing last year at 10.1 and 7.3, with six double-doubles. His 40-minute averages were 15.5 and 11.2.
- Experience can never be a bad thing. Although he has never played in the NCAA Tournament, Thorne has 81 collegiate games under his belt, that's only one less than Landen Lucas and Cliff Alexander combined.
(check out his highlights at :26, :46, and 1:14)
- Thorne is a big body in the middle, but he isn't exactly Jeff Withey. He has just 54 swats in 81 games. In comparison, Joel Embiid had 72 in just 28 games last year.
- He's not a great late-game option. Thorne sank just 98 of 186 free throws while at Charlotte. That's only 52.7 percent, which makes it sound even worse.
- While a solid player, he wasn't exactly dominating a weaker than average Conference USA. He was fifth in the conference in rebounding, but didn't even crack the top-25 in scoring.
- He's a bit of an unknown. While Self and his assistant coaches can watch film and talk to those who know him, they only have one season to get him adjusted to a new school and power conference. It might be half the season before they know exactly what kind of player they have.
What to Expect
A few things seem to point to Thorne landing in Lawrence. For starters, Self is aggressively going after him. There are multiple top-20 recruits considering his Jayhawk squad, and he wouldn't be seriously pursuing the former 49er if he wasn't highly interested in him.
Dodd reported that Thorne's high school coach, Heath Vandevender, has said that his former player is looking for a team that can play him at the five, and has a history of getting bigs to the pro. There is no guarantee he would be good enough to start every game at center, especially if Kansas can land Stephen Zimmerman or Thon Maker, but he would be heading to a coaching staff that has had success with its big men.
Embiid went from raw talent to No. 3 NBA draft pick, Jeff Withey went from awkward transfer to NBA player, and the 2008 Jayhawk championship team featured three big men who eventually played in, or were drafted by, the NBA, in Cole Aldrich, Darnell Jackson, and Sasha Kaun. Manning, a KU assistant at the time, is no longer there, but Self and his current assistants will do just fine.
But what could intrigue Thorne the most is the positive experience Black had two seasons again at Kansas. He came to Kansas an underachieving center who averaged 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds his junior year at Memphis. While scoring just 5.5 PPG at KU, he worked his way to a free agent NBA contract, and is playing every day with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Predictions can be made and social media opinions will flow, but new situations arise every day that can change the equation.
There is no doubt however that Thorne is a strong possibility. If he becomes Tarik Black 2.0, Jayhawk fans should be satisfied.
(More highlights at :29, :36, and 1:21)