A week ago Race Thompson stood on the Branch McCracken Court next to his parents and a framed No. 25 jersey.
He struggled to get through an emotional Senior Night speech in front of his teammates and the fans who remained after a difficult loss to Rutgers.
The moment had all the hallmarks of a goodbye, one that has played had for decades on Senior Night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
But like all six seniors on the IU roster, Thompson still has a year of eligibility remaining due to the extra year granted by the NCAA in connection with the pandemic. So was that moment in fact a goodbye? The Minnesota product isn’t ready to say that.
“I haven’t made any decision yet if I’m leaving or if I’m coming back,” Thompson said on Tuesday as Indiana prepares for the Big Ten Tournament. “Either-or, it’s up in the air.”
The 6-foot-8 Thompson was the first recruit to commit to play for Archie Miller in 2017. He’s the last holdover from the 2017-18 team, the elder statesman in the program. If he chooses to play another year of college basketball, it will be his sixth season at this level including a pre-planned redshirt true freshman year.
Each year Thompson’s production has improved in a stair-step fashion in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals and field goal percentage. Thompson suffered a major concussion that disrupted his 2018-19 campaign, he began seeing a larger role the following season, and he has started every game over the last two years.
Named honorable mention All-Big Ten on Tuesday, Thompson is tied this season for second on the team in scoring (11.8), and he is second in rebounding (7.9), steals (32), blocks (21) and FG percentage (55.6%).
While not thought of as a perimeter shooter, Thompson has made 9-of-21 (42.8 percent) from three over the last 11 games.
Just as important, he has evolved into a locker room leader.
“He’s really the glue to our team,” his four-year teammate Rob Phinisee said last week.
“He keeps everybody together. He’s level-headed. He’s a leader. He’s been here, this is his fifth year, so he’s been through it all and he’s just a huge part of our team.”
Thompson has options for the 2022-23 season. In addition to coming back to Indiana, he could transfer to another school, or choose to get on with his professional life — which may include playing basketball overseas.
But surely the fact that he went through Senior Night ceremonies, and all of that emotion you saw when he stepped up to the microphone and struggled to find words, surely that meant his plans for next year don’t include Indiana. Right?
Thompson says that was all more about the intensity of the moment than an indication of what is to come.
“I was emotional because I’m in the unknown,” Thompson said. “Coming off an emotional game (against Rutgers), the feelings I had towards my teammates, towards my managers, towards my coaches, towards the fans is really — if that was my last game in Assembly Hall, it was definitely an emotional one.”
“But again, it’s very possible I could be coming back. Again, it’s just really up in the air.”
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