Thorpe excels as late bloomer


Thorpe excels as late bloomer

By Julian Nunnery

DeKALB — The road to Division I basketball was unconventional to say the least for Dante Thorpe, men’s basketball junior forward.

Coming out of Friendship Collegiate Academy High School in Washington D.C., Thorpe admittedly said he did not see himself as a Division I prospect.

“I wasn’t that good of a player in high school,” Thorpe said. “I probably only averaged about eight or nine points per game, so I would say I wasn’t a Division I player yet. So I took some time off to get myself together and train and then ended up going to Triton.”

While still in D.C., Thorpe was referred to Marcus Chester, a coach for the DMV Sports Academy. After one day of working out with Thorpe, Chester said he noticed his potential and decided to help him train and look for a school that would add him to their roster.

There were hardly any colleges looking at Thorpe because of his mediocre high school statistics. Luckily, one of Chester’s basketball associates put Thorpe in contact with Steve Christiansen, Triton College head coach.

Thorpe traveled down to the school for a tryout, and the coaching staff immediately fell in love with him.

“It only took about 10 possessions in our first open gym to figure out that this guy was a pretty good basketball player,” Christiansen said. “You could kind of just see that he was a basketball junkie.”

Triton offered Thorpe their last athletic scholarship of the season, which he accepted and began his collegiate career at the Division II junior college in River Grove, Illinois. As a freshman, Thorpe averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game and reached the NJCAA Division II National Championship game with his team.

In his sophomore season, Thorpe’s averages nearly doubled in every category. He jumped up to 20.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as the team’s go-to offensive player.

Thorpe’s success in his second year earned him NJCAA Division II First Team All-American honors, which caught the attention of several Division I coaches.

He received offers from several Division I schools including NIU, DePaul, Loyola, University of New Mexico and Missouri State.

Amidst all of the offers, Thorpe had his sights set on staying in Illinois to remain close to Christiansen, with whom he still has a great relationship to this day that he describes as “bigger than basketball.”

Mark Montgomery, men’s basketball head coach, said he had his eyes on Thorpe for quite some time as he thought he may one day make a great fit at NIU.

“I saw him his freshman year at Triton, and I thought he was a good player,” Montgomery said. “I saw him again in the first game of his sophomore year because he was playing against Anastasios Demogerantas who was at Moraine Valley at the time. I continued to follow him throughout the year.”

Montgomery said he saw a lot in Thorpe’s game that he felt would translate well if he came to play for the Huskies.

“He was scoring 20 points a game,” Montgomery said. “I liked how he could score off the dribble and create shots. I also liked his competitiveness defensively. He played with passion, he played hard, and you can just tell he wants to win.”

After Thorpe’s sophomore season at Triton, Montgomery set out to recruit him to play for NIU and invited him to the campus to get a feel for the school and the players on the team at the time.

“I came down here for an open gym,” Thorpe said. “Montgomery showed me around the campus, and I liked it here. During the open gym, I liked how competitive the guys were and it made me want to come here.”

Thorpe was sold after his trip to DeKalb and on Jun. 9, Montgomery announced he successfully signed him for the 2017-18 season.

Thorpe knew that in his transition from Triton to NIU, he would need to adjust certain aspects of his game to fit in with the team and earn a spot in the rotation.

“At Triton, I needed to do a lot of scoring and get my teammates involved,” Thorpe said. “Coming in to here [NIU], I knew there were guys with a lot of talent that were better or on the same level as me. So I decided step up on the defensive end, and I think that’s an area of my game that I’ve really improved on this year.”

Thorpe’s transition to NIU was nearly seamless. He fell right into the starting lineup from the first game of the season as a stretch forward and followed up on his defensive commitment, tying for second on the team in blocks with eight and fourth in steals with 24.

He seemed comfortable on the offensive end as the team’s’ third leading scorer adding 10.8 points per game for the 2017-2018 season.

Christiansen said he is not surprised about how quickly Thorpe has become acclimated to his team as he has always seen more in him than others on the court.

“When he told me he wanted to go to Northern, I thought he would be a great player there,” Christiansen said. “When we looked at their roster together while they were recruiting him, we realized he would be able to fill their gaping hole on the wing. I know that Northern probably hasn’t won as many games this season as they’d like to, but I think he’s satisfied what they were looking for.”

Thorpe said he is aware that in addition to sharpening both his offensive and defensive skill sets, his most important growth for next year will need to come in the form of leadership.

“I know I have to be a better vocal leader in order for our team to be successful next year,” Thorpe said. “That’s one of the biggest things that I lacked on this year, and I’m going to bring it next year.”

The final chapters of Thorpe’s underdog story have yet to be written. What is clear is that Thorpe has come a long way, and he couldn’t be any happier as a member of the Huskies.