A Sharper Thorne
Senior Adjusts To Life At EMU
HARRISONBURG – Eastern Mennonite University basketball coach Kirby Dean readily admits that the players he recruits don’t necessarily fit the model of the prototypical EMU student.
Why doesn’t he go that route?
“Because if we did that, we’d go 2-23,” Dean said. “I’m not going 2-23.”
The Royals’ biggest star so far this season certainly fits the non-profile profile.
Senior forward Andrew Thorne has never been all that religious. What little religion he does practice is Baptist – he said he’d never even seen a Mennonite before EMU. He has tattoos splayed across his shoulders and arms. His grades haven’t always been great – he’s even been close to flunking out.
But he’s also helping EMU not go 2-23.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder from Front Royal is averaging team highs of 19 points on 52.3 percent shooting and nine rebounds in EMU’s 4-0 start. He’s scored 25 points in the last two games, earning the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Player of the Week award Monday.
It’s the first time Thorne has ever won the award, though he was a third-team all-conference selection last season. Never, though, has he felt more comfortable at EMU than now, both on the court and at a school that, he said, remains a foreign culture even now.
“It gives me two sides of life,” Thorne said of his EMU experience. “I have my life, and I have the life I come to at school.”
The EMU life is one he never imagined as a senior at Skyline High School. He didn’t even think he’d be playing basketball.
Thorne, in fact, said he was being recruited by the James Madison football team as a wide receiver. He was second-team All-Group AA at Skyline, and he said he spoke often with JMU wide receivers coach Clayton Matthews about playing for the Division I-AA Dukes.
But, Thorne said, his grades weren’t good, and his SAT scores were worse. He took the SAT over and over but couldn’t score high enough to qualify for Madison, he said.
All the while, though, Dean was recruiting Thorne for basketball, a sport in which Thorne also excelled as a high school player. Dean told Thorne that if football didn’t work out, EMU basketball would always be there.
“Early on, we could have easily walked away from that one thinking, ‘There’s no point wasting our time here,’” Dean said.
The summer after graduating from Skyline, Thorne got his final SAT score back, and he said it again wasn’t good enough for Madison – or any of the other football schools he was considering, including D-II Shepherd in West Virginia.
Scrambling for a school that would accept him, Thorne, who admitted he occasionally over-partied in high school, said he knew he needed to be in a school atmosphere. So at the last minute, he called Dean.
“I knew if I didn’t go to school, I don’t know what else I would have been doing, honestly,” Thorne said. “If I had taken a year off, I don’t feel like that [the next] year, I would have been like, ‘I’m going to go to school.’ Just the way my attitude was and things. I just said, ‘Kirby’s always been there.’ So he’s the first one I called.”
Thorne contributed as a freshman for the 2009-10 Royals team that made the Division III tournament’s round of eight. He played behind Todd Phillips, who was named a first-team All-American that year. The winning, he said, “made me feel good.”
But the rest of the EMU life didn’t.
“I’ve gotta be honest – I didn’t like it at all,” he said.
He especially didn’t like studying. His grades were so bad that EMU threatened to kick him out of school after his freshman year, Thorne said; he had to file an appeal over the summer to be reinstated, though Dean said he knew “in my heart of hearts” that Thorne was in no real danger of flunking out as long as his grades improved.
The appeal was successful, and Thorne shaped up. He admitted that his grades still aren’t great – as Dean put it, “he’s not going to make the dean’s list anytime soon” – but they’re good enough, Thorne said, to “have a little cushion” to stay eligible.
“I think it dawned on him that he could really dig his heels in and get serious about this, and really focus academically – which it’s going to take that kind of focus for a kid like him – or, he could go down to McDonald’s and get an application and start flipping burgers,” Dean said. “I mean, that’s the reality. Some kids like Andrew are mature enough to figure that out, and others don’t.”
While Thorne is also getting more comfortable at EMU, he doesn’t live the stereotypical Mennonite life. An example: He’s thinking of joining the Navy after school. One of the Mennonite religion’s main tenets is pacifism.
But, now more than ever, being atypical at EMU is fine by Thorne.
“Coach [Dean] always let me know, ‘You’ve got to loosen up. You’re here now, you’re going to have to accept it, or you might as well just leave,” he said. “You can’t just be miserable your whole life.’
“…I’ve matured a real lot. I see different people. I don’t just see the normal thing. I see different people’s parts of life. I accept people for who they are, and EMU helps you do that.”