No one has been with fourth year IU head coach Archie Miller in Bloomington longer than Race Thompson.
It may not seem that way, because until 2020, we didn’t see much of the 6-foot-8 forward.
The Plymouth, Minn. based Miller recruit arrived in Bloomington in 2017 along with Tom Crean recruit Al Durham. Thompson and Durham are the lone holdovers from Miller’s first Indiana team.
Thompson redshirted his first year, and a severe concussion cost him almost the entire 2018-19 campaign.
Almost an afterthought heading into 2019-20, Thompson started to emerge late in the season.
His trendlines are still pointing up.
Way up if you ask his teammates.
At a media availability this summer, Durham pointed to Thompson as a player that had “shocked” his teammates at early workouts, noting major strides both on and off the court.
“He has really stepped his game up and his communication up tremendously,” Durham said.
When quizzed recently on who on the 2020-21 roster is set for a breakout above anyone else, Durham once again pointed to Thompson.
“I feel as though we have yet to see him at 100 percent. I feel like he has been working hard and he is about to get everything he deserves,” Durham said.
The other senior on the roster shares Durham’s view.
“Race has looked great all summer and I’m excited for him,” Joey Brunk said when asked for his view on breakout players.
Miller intends to play much more of a perimeter oriented attack in 2020-21.
The ability of a player like Thompson to be versatile — scoring from the perimeter and off the dribble, defending inside and out — those are variables that become key components in Indiana’s ability to execute on the shift in approach.
Often thought as a banger, a lunch-pail guy, can Thompson develop into a more versatile player, especially on the offensive end?
The pandemic took the players off their routines and away from the coaching and training staffs.
It tested self-discipline, resolve and passion.
If you were going to develop in 2020, it was going to come largely from within.
When Miller surveys his roster, Thompson emerges as the player that best navigated the circumstances and took his game to another level.
“No one has made more strides individually in the last six months than Race Thompson has,” Miller said in a recent interview with radio voice Don Fischer.
Those strides Miller referenced are particularly noteworthy, because most will remember the progress Thompson made as a redshirt sophomore in 2019-20.
Down the stretch of his third season at IU, Thompson became a integral part of Indiana’s rotation.
“Race got his opportunity at the end of the year last year,” Miller said. “He had good health at the right time. At the end of the year you could make the case that he was a starter for us going down the stretch.”
Over his last nine games in 2019-20, Thompson played 19.5 minutes and averaged 5.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, .9 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.
On top of the numbers, Thompson brought much needed toughness to the lineup. That’s something that Miller had both as a player himself and on his best teams at Dayton. It is something that the Indiana program has been desperately seeking from its players since Miller arrived.
Can Thompson build on an already impressive trajectory over the last year?
It sure seems like he is headed in that direction.
Many view 2020-21 as the season when everything should start to come together for Miller at IU.
If that happens, it won’t be a coincidence if it is also the season when it all comes to together for the first player that he brought to Bloomington.
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