When Race Thompson went down with a knee injury at Iowa, he feared the worst.
Based on the way it looked and felt, the senior forward thought his knee was damaged severely enough to end his season and his IU career. His Hoosiers led the Hawkeyes when that moment occurred, and it played a big role in IU’s crushing defeat at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Thompson returned to game action Sunday against Michigan State, though in a very limited capacity. And he’s gained even clearer perspective and appreciation for suiting up after missing the four games.
“Coming back, I have even more intensity, want to practice every day, want to be here,” Thompson said Tuesday during a Zoom call with local media. “Because with that moment, the flash of everything here being done, just being grateful to be able to continue to play here and have the last couple months to just be with the guys, be able to play, be healthy, and it not actually be over.”
Thompson played just four minutes against the Spartans, and committed three fouls while giving teammates some breathers. On the season, he’s averaging 7.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game.
He couldn’t put a percentage on where he’s at physically, but he said his remaining limitations are more mental than physical.
“I’m feeling better every day now,” Thompson said. “I can do everything I can do. I think it’s more of a confidence thing. When you have a knee thing, I think you lose a little bit of confidence in things that you just naturally do.”
The injury ended Thompson’s streak of 76 consecutive starts. He’d turned into a very reliable player for the Hoosiers after an injury and a concussion that lingered limited him to just nine games as a freshman.
That period at the beginning of his career was tough for him, and this stretch near the end was also difficult. He took on a sort of assistant coach role while he couldn’t play, and saw the game differently while observing IU head coach Mike Woodson and his assistants.
Thompson had that vantage point for IU’s three-game losing streak, including the Iowa game after he went down, and for the first two wins of the current three-game winning streak. He said IU’s defense is the biggest on-court reason for the turnaround.
But he also saw better effort and focus during the winning streak.
“The fight in practice, and the intensity they had going into all these games when I’ve been out, since we started winning the last couple games, the intensity’s picked up, the focus has been better,” Thompson said. “Just competing in practice every day I think is making everybody better.”
Thompson will look to play a more expanded role for the Hoosiers on Wednesday at Minnesota. He grew up in nearby Plymouth, around 12 miles away from Minneapolis. This will be Thompson’s fourth time playing back in his home state, and IU has gone 2-1 in those games. He put up eight points and six rebounds in a late February win last season.
Thompson said he’s expecting 50 to 60 family and friends at Williams Arena for the game. So this game is particularly special for the senior.
“Going back home, it definitely means a little bit more to me. I want to win. Never want to lose to the hometown team,” Thompson said. “It definitely means more to play in front of friends and family like that, it’s a lot of fun. I usually don’t have anybody coming to the games, unless it’s an away game. So it definitely is good to have everybody there.”
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