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IU basketball’s Mike Woodson letting it be known: Race Thompson has “made a major jump for us”

Race Thompson made six 3-pointers on 28 attempts through his first three seasons in an IU uniform, good for just 21.4 percent from behind the arc.

For some, there was enough history there, along with countless hours behind the scenes at practices for conclusions to be drawn.

And when Mike Woodson took the job 19 months ago, those conclusions were shared with the new head coach.

Woodson has said often he was told Thompson couldn’t make threes and couldn’t handle the basketball when he took the job, and his initial response to those observations was blunt.

“I’m like ‘well hell, he shouldn’t be on the team if we can’t get him to do those things,'” Woodson relayed on his radio show Monday night with Don Fischer.

But Woodson saw something in the 6-foot-8 Thompson, who arrived at IU in 2017 with a reputation as a stretch-four, and he gave him a chance to prove his doubters wrong.

While Thompson was delivering in many other ways through the first half of the 2021-22 campaign, the idea that he’d become a threat from behind-the-arc appeared to be a lost cause.  Thompson started his first season under Woodson with numbers that looked worse than his first three seasons.  He was just 3-of-27 from three over Indiana’s first 19 games in 2021-22, including the first half of a home loss to Michigan in January.

Woodson was no doubt getting “we told you so” looks, even if nobody would come out and say it.

But after Thompson closed the season by making 12-of-28 (42.8 percent) starting with a second half connection against the Wolverines, Woodson’s patience in Thompson appears to have been prudent.

“Out of all the players we’ve had, he’s made a major jump for us, and it’s kinda nice to see,” Woodson said.  “That means he’s put the time and work in.”

Perhaps the biggest payoff for all of that time and work came in March.  Indiana probably would not have earned a 2-point win over Illinois at the Big Ten Tournament, and as it turned out, would not have made it to the NCAA Tournament without Thompson’s 2-of-2 performance from three in that contest.

Those were shots Thompson would not have made earlier in his career.  He admits a lack of confidence played a role in his early struggles from long range.  But with continuous urging from his teammates and coaches, he now appears up to the task.

“My coaches want me shooting them (3-pointers), even my teammates want me shooting them, they say I don’t shoot them enough,” Thompson said at IU’s media day.  “It was something I did before I was here and it’s gotten better every year.”

On Saturday, the sixth-year Minnesota product appeared to have taken things to another level.  He made his first three attempts from behind the arc in the first 18:22 of an exhibition game against Marian.

Emboldened by Thompson’s most recent performance, Woodson was ready to playfully call out his detractors.

“Every time we watch film I give (assistant coaches) Kenya (Hunter) and Brian (Walsh) a hard time because they were the two guys who were saying ‘hey man you don’t want Race handling the basketball, you don’t want him shooting threes,'” Woodson told Fischer on Monday.

To be sure, Thompson made wide-open threes against Marian, an NAIA opponent.  There will be stiffer competition down the road, with longer, more athletic contests of his attempts.  But something else Woodson likes to say on repeat — his offense generated open looks last year.

And Thompson should indeed get plenty of open looks with defenses intent on slowing down Trayce Jackson-Davis on the block, and the driving lanes of point guards Xavier Johnson and Jalen Hood-Schifino.  Thompson’s man will be the player opposing defenses least want to have to guard the perimeter with so many weapons in the paint.

The opportunity will be there for Thompson to put together his best season in an IU uniform, and improve his professional opportunities along the way.

If he connects like he did during the back half of last year, Woodson will no doubt continue to let his assistants hear about it.


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