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Race Thompson: Glue Guy, Stalwart Forward, Locker Room Leader

He Wasn’t Always Headband Race.

Alex Paul

Looking back at Race Thompson’s career is a fascinating study in the program’s trajectory since Tom Crean was fired.

Committing to Indiana on July 16, 2017, he was one of the first recruits to sign with Archie Miller, an era he stuck around through admirably before Mike Woodson was hired.

After redshirting his first season in Bloomington, he made his Indiana debut on November 9, 2018, scoring two points in four minutes on his only field goal attempt. He didn’t see too much action that year, but was averaging 13.6 minutes off the bench by his redshirt sophomore season, finishing second on the team that year with 19 blocks.

His best game that season came in an 89-77 win against then number 21 Iowa, when he scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds, and recorded two blocks in a win that snapped a four game losing streak for a spiraling Indiana team. He had only seen action in one of the three games leading up to that, but cemented his spot in the lineup going forward with that performance.

Over his next two seasons, Race would go on to start each of the 62 games he played in, earning the team captaincy as a junior. His starting streak and captaincy carrying over across the coaching change tells you everything you need to know about how important Race has been to Indiana in his career.

While he’s never been the feature of the offense, his ability to play inside with Trayce Jackson-Davis has made the Hoosiers one of the tougher, more experienced frontcourts in the conference in over the last two years. He’s also turned in some admirable performances to lead Indiana to victories.

Against Providence in the 2019 Maui invitational, Race had a career high 22 points, alongside 13 rebounds, two assists, and a block in 38 minutes, leading all scorers in a 79-58 Indiana victory.

Under Woodson, Race has seen his role change, but he’s remained an integral part of the offense. His 11.1 points per game in Woodson’s first season speak to how important his experience and offensive presence was to getting Indiana back into the NCAA Tournament.

In Indiana’s 65-63 win against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament, which propelled Indiana back on the good side of the bubble, he out-rebounded Trayce 9-7, also adding ten points, an assist and a block.

When he went down this year, Indiana immediately blew a large lead in a game that looked like one of his best of the season. In just ten minutes at Iowa, he had nine points, three rebounds, an assist, and a block with some admirable defense on Wooden candidate Kris Murray.

The Hoosiers struggled in his absence, dropping the first three games after he went down. Indiana missed him most on the defensive end, allowing over 80 points in those first three before finding its focus against Wisconsin.

Thankfully for Mike Woodson, Race only ended up missing about a month with his injury. Despite not always looking fully healthy, his presence has been an obvious stabilizer for this team, which has looked much more consistent with him as the starting power forward.

No matter how you look at it, Race’s graduation will be the end of an era in Bloomington. Considering the roster as it currently exists, it’s not clear whether Woodson will continue playing two bigs on the floor together going forward.

Whether Woodson decides to change things up or not, nobody will be able to fill in alongside Malik Reneau and recreate the chemistry and experience that Race and Trayce have given Indiana over the last few years.

He’s been a consistent, positive presence off the court as well, forming chemistry with Jackson-Davis and new teammates every year that’s proven key when times turn difficult.

Race is a guy who has given it his all in every game since he got to Indiana, so it’s fitting that he gets to end his career more safely in the NCAA tournament than he’s ever been, with a roster that could make a little run.