Coming into the 2021-22 season Race Thompson had only attempted 28 3-pointers over the course of his three seasons on the court with IU.
And while the volume wasn’t enough to be meaningful, the results weren’t promising.
Thompson made just six of those 28 attempts, and early on in year four, things got worse before they got better.
The 6-foot-8 Minnesota product made just 4-of-30 (13.3 percent) from long range over the first 19 games of the season, and it looked like the ‘can Race Thompson shoot’ question had been answered.
But then something clicked in late January. Thompson went 4-of-4 from three over two games against Penn State and Maryland, and he finished the season by making 11-of-25 (44 percent) over the final 16 contests.
The 11 late season makes were more threes than Thompson had made in the first 84 games of his career combined.
That success wasn’t perhaps conclusive evidence Thompson had rekindled the stretch-four reputation he brought with him to Bloomington from Armstrong H.S. in Plymouth, Minn., but it was at least a proof of concept.
And the concept is an appealing one for Indiana and head coach Mike Woodson, who readily admits he’d grown accustomed to having power forwards who could make threes during his time in the NBA.
The idea of moving Thompson out to the perimeter on a more permanent basis is an appealing one for Woodson. But it has to fit Thompson’s game, and it has to make sense to pull him away from the paint where he made 60 percent of his shots last year.
So it should come as no surprise that the focus of Thompson’s offseason efforts are centered on making that late season percentage from long range closer to the norm.
“I think it really comes down to being able to shoot the ball better and handle the ball,” Thompson said when asked what parts of his game he wants to improve this offseason. “Then again, that’s not getting away from my bread and butter where I can post-up any time, but I think it really comes down to being able to shoot the ball.
“I’ve really been working on it. They’ve been working with me on it a lot, showing me what I need to do, what I need to change about my shot, just little tiny things to make my shot more consistent. We’ve seen improvements already.”
So what are those things?
The main adjustment isn’t to his shot at all, but instead, preparing to shoot.
“Well, the first (thing is) really just shot preparation, having my hand behind the ball ready to shoot the ball when I catch it, not having to make a lot of movements with the ball when I shoot it,” Thompson said. “That’s something that has helped my shot, just not go left, right, just keep it either long or short if it’s a miss, and I notice that I’ve made a lot more shots that way.”
IMPRESSED BY RENEAU
Although he is almost four years older, Thompson will be pushed in his final year at IU for playing time by freshman Malik Reneau.
Reneau arrives at IU listed on the roster as an inch taller (6-foot-9) and the same weight (235) as Thompson. That’s 15 more pounds than Thompson weighed when he was a true freshman in 2017-18.
Thompson has noticed that Reneau, who comes from national prep school powerhouse Montverde Academy, isn’t built like your typical first year college player.
“When he got here, he was bigger and stronger than I had expected him to be, and he seems like he’s already ready to play in the Big Ten. In the weight room he’s strong, on the court he’s strong, he’s athletic, and he’s skilled,” Thompson said of Reneau.
“He’s a talented big man, (he can) handle the ball, shoot the ball, and has a lot of moves in the post,” Thompson said. He’s really impressed me, especially in the past two days he’s been doing really well, and I’m excited to get on the court with him.”
Although he is ready to play and highly talented, Reneau may have a hard time bumping Thompson out of the starting lineup. Woodson was more inclined to trust his veterans last year rather than turn over the keys to younger players.
At a minimum Reneau could see the time when either Thompson or Trayce Jackson-Davis come out of games, and play around 15 to 20 minutes per contest.
Thompson has already seen glimpses of polished skills that will translate for Reneau when the lights come on in November.
“He hit like a little shimmy one-foot fadeaway that was pretty nasty that kind of turned my head a little bit,” Thompson said of a play Reneau made in workouts that impressed him. “I would say that’s one move that he made in practice the other day. He had a Euro step yesterday on like two people that was really nice.
“I’ve been really impressed with him.”
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