It has been a long three months for Indiana redshirt freshman Race Thompson.
A lot longer than that, really.
After suffering a serious concussion in practice in November, the Hoosier forward has had to watch from the sidelines as his team has gone through the highs and lows of this crazy 2018-19 season.
The Minnesota native said that Saturday’s game against the Gophers wasn’t circled on the calendar as a contest he was targeting for a return.
No, it sounds like Thompson has had a fire burning that at times appears to be sorely lacking from this IU team.
The 6-foot-8 Thompson indicated that he had circled several games before Saturday and was anxious to get back — even when he still had the concussion.
Instead, Thompson was forced to wait patiently as he regained his conditioning and familiarity with the playbook.
“I really just followed coaches plan,” said Thompson after Saturday’s loss to Minnesota. “He said to work on getting back into shape and getting back in since I missed a lot of practice and didn’t know all of the plays that well. Coach just wanted me to get all of the plays down and to get back into shape.”
Of course no one could blame Thompson for being anxious. After reclassifying into the recruiting class of 2018 and redshirting, it has now been almost two years since he has seen competitive action save for some very limited mop up duty in November.
It has been a tough stretch away from the game, particularly with the concussion, but now Thompson is ready to just look forward.
“It was really tough for me to get through that, but I’m good, I’m back now, and I’m better than ever,” said Thompson.
While Thompson has been long overdue to see the court, he isn’t the only one anxious to give some fresh faces an opportunity.
With his head coach now seemingly hell bent on drastic change, it won’t be a surprise to see Thompson have a bigger role throughout the remainder of the season. IU head coach Archie Miller said this about his redshirt freshman forward after Saturday’s game:
“It was basically Race’s first college game,” said Miller. “To be able to fire him in there against the size they have was fine. He mixes it up well, he’s rugged, and he’s obviously a good offensive rebounder. To be able to play him in this game for seven minutes, hopefully that gives us the chance to be able to move him into the rotation a little bit more.”
Thompson has skills that are clearly missing from this team. Miller said before the season that he sees Thompson as a guy that can stretch the floor with his ability to knock down perimeter shots. But perhaps even more important, he sees an effort guy.
“He’s not afraid to mix it up,” Miller said before the season. “He proved that last year in practice every day. He’ll get in there and rebound. He’ll get in there and bang.”
It was a small sample size in what were largely minutes after the game was decided, but Thompson showed flashes of having a willingness to do the dirty work on Saturday.
In just seven minutes of action, Thompson managed to pull down the second most rebounds on the team with five. Juwan Morgan led the way with eight boards, but it took him 28 minutes to pull that off.
Thompson looked good, and he indicated after the game that he feels healthy.
“I’m definitely 100 percent right now. I feel really good, better than I’ve felt since I’ve been here.”
Now the key will be to build up the endurance to increase his stamina and ultimately his role on this team.
“Basically, I’ve just got to keep going hard in practice every day,” said Thompson. “I just need to keep putting myself in game situations during practice, and that’s really what gets you ready for the games along with trusting the coaches.”
Indiana can use the contributions of someone enthusiastic about playing and ready to mix it up as soon as possible.
While Thompson appears to be capable of bringing both skills and intangibles to this team, his main focus is on helping to deliver what Indiana, losers of 10 of 11 games, needs the most.
“I just have to do what I do well. I’ll do anything to help this team, and that’s my main goal. All I really want to do is to help this team win games,” Thompson said.
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