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How Indiana’s Race Thompson became one of college basketball’s best ‘glue guys’

Race Thompson during starting lineup introductions against Penn State. (Ryan Lo/HN)

On a chilly 2020 February evening in Minneapolis, just about 15 miles west of then-sophomore Race Thompson’s hometown, Indiana was down three to a subpar Minnesota team. 

After being subbed in at the 17:50 minute mark in the second half Thompson immediately drained his first shot attempt. Then, something just clicked for IU. The Hoosiers went on a 35-20 run until the end of the game, resulting in a 68-56 win. 

The hometown kid, from the nearby suburb of Plymouth, was the storyline that night after nearly tallying his first career double-double with a statline of a season-high 25 minutes, nine points, 10 rebounds, a block and a steal. Over the last 10 games of that 2020 season, Thompson averaged 18.4 minutes per game. Prior to the Minnesota game, he was averaging 11.2 minutes per game. 

Oh and that double-double number? In his first two seasons Thompson had zero. In the past two seasons, seven. 

Impressively, Thompson has not missed a game since the start of his junior season last year and has started in all 48 games in that stretch. However, early in his career in the candy stripes, it was never easy to finally break through. 

Thompson redshirted his entire 2017-18 season because of his reclassification and foregoing his senior year of high school to enroll early at IU, an Archie Miller staple. But then, in 2018-19, his freshman season the injuries started piling up. 

“My freshman season was probably one of the toughest I’ve dealt with,” Thompson said in an interview with the Big Ten Network. “It was one of the worst concussions our doctors had seen. And I was out for months.”

This concussion not only sidelined the former top-100 recruit for two and a half months but the concussion was bad enough that he couldn’t even attend practices. 

“I was alone a lot,” Thompson said. “I felt like I had one year stripped away from me.”

Thompson was also sidelined to start the season with a groin injury. 

It’s impossible to make up for lost time, which is something everyone has been realizing lately. But for Race Thompson, the goal was to never make up for that time, it was to take advantage of it when it came in the future.

Race Thompson dribbles against Minnesota. (IU Athletics)

***

Shortly after his breakout game in Minneapolis, the COVID-19 pandemic put basketball activities to a halt, and March to June of 2020 was a time period where many felt like they had indeed lost time. 

However, Thompson took advantage and used the time to work on his body. From pushing cars in the backyard with his brother to lifting anything and everything, it was the steps he needed to take in order to make that sophomore to junior year leap. 

Former Indiana teammate Al Durham, who now plays at Providence, said last year in a Big Ten Network interview that “When he [Race] first came here he was literally like soft, he was squishy. His body even looked squishy.”

Indiana strength coach Clif Marshall has publicly praised Thompson for the development of his body. 

“He’s helped me transform my body from almost nothing to something,” Thompson said. 

Fall 2020 rolled around and Indiana was in need of consistency down low, aside from star power forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, due to a season-ending back injury from center Joey Brunk. Indiana got that with Thompson starting all 27 games, averaging 28.2 minutes per game and nine points. 

Thompson showed resilience and toughness fighting through a facial surgery in February and finishing with grace after a disappointing six-game losing spin out to end the season.

Pictured, from left: Indiana’s Race Thompson, Jordan Geronimo and Anthony Leal flexing during a workout in October 2020. (Clif Marshall Twitter)

***

After Archie Miller’s firing, the rising senior tested waters in the transfer portal but the decision to stay with Indiana came easy with the arrival of Mike Woodson. Thompson, who was Miller’s first commitment at Indiana, just knew where home was. He wasn’t going to let all the work he put in go to waste, the opportunities awaited if he stayed one more year in Bloomington. 

“I’ve said it before. I don’t know how you could say no to coach Woodson,” Thompson said on 2021 media day regarding his decision to return. “I don’t care who you are.”

Race Thompson eyes past Purdue’s Mason Gills. Photo By Andrew Mascharka/Indiana Athletics

While last season Thompson showed a lot of consistency, his play this year has solidified him as a premier glue guy not only in the Big Ten but in all of college basketball.

When you think of a “glue guy” in college basketball it’s someone who does all the little things, rarely makes mistakes, shows toughness, shows dedication and most importantly is a leader. Race Thompson has been all of those things and more for Indiana.

The week after the Jan. 23 home loss to Michigan, Thompson said, “We’re trying to break a door down and we made a dent in that door in the Purdue game and we can’t get too up or too down on ourselves…we can’t drop two in a row.”

No, Indiana didn’t drop two in a row. Indiana absolutely thumped Penn State 74-57 and the Hoosiers were up 29 at halftime. 

Thompson was the main factor as he tallied 18 points and six rebounds, including two 3-pointers. 

Four days later against Maryland in College Park he arguably played better, tallying a team-high 19 points and 12 rebounds. He also knocked down two 3-pointers.

To show Thompson’s improvement in his impact over the past two seasons alone, here’s the on/off court statistics with Race over the past two seasons. 

Here’s last season’s team numbers.

As you can see, there’s just not a whole lot of variety. Now here’s this season’s team numbers. 

Rim FG%= Layup, dunk, etc. 
eFG%= Field goal percentage that accounts for the 3-pointer being three points
TO %=The percentage of possessions that result in turnovers
Points/100=The amount of points scored per 100 possessions
Off. net=Basically every offense together as one (TO%, P/100, FG%, Reb.%)

Clearly, the numbers are pretty staggering. This season, Thompson has taken a huge step in  being a difference maker for the Hoosiers. His presence isn’t unnoticed. 

Teammates and coaches have noticed as well. Anthony Leal has tweeted a picture of Thompson’s head on an Elmer’s glue bottle. 

Indiana guard Anthony Leal tweeted out the photoshopped picture on Feb. 2.

During a recent press conference, All-American forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was asked about his relationship with Race and the time they’ve spent together at Indiana. 

“Me and Race have a lot of memories, some probably shouldn’t be said on here,” Jackson-Davis said. And jokingly, “he’s been with his girlfriend a lot lately so I’ve been kind of pushed to the side.” 


The reasons behind Race’s step up this season and improvements lie with his vocality. In seasons prior Thompson was quiet, unmoving and in the back seat. This season, that’s a different story. 

“My voice, it’s definitely being heard. I try to bring it every single day in practice and in the games,” Thompson said in a press conference prior to the Penn State blowout win. “I can improve on talking more. They emphasize it to me every single day, ‘Keep talking more, talk more, talk more.’ Because it doesn’t hurt to over-talk.”

Thompson was named a captain last year for a reason and while he might not be the most extroverted person, leading by example with his work ethic and dedication is noticed. 

***

Indiana hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2016. Thompson was a sophomore in high school at the time. Every NCAA tournament team has to be grounded and have a foundation and Thompson will be that foundation for the Hoosiers as they aim to make their first trip back to the big dance in six years. 

It took Race Thompson over two and a half years on campus to see his hard work come into fruition on the court. While many had crossed off his name early on in his career, the Minneapolis native’s patience and timeliness have paid off. Race Thompson never gave up on Indiana and Indiana never gave up on Race Thompson.

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