BLOOMINGTON, Indiana – A stroke of luck nearly ended his career.
As Iowa guard Tony Perkins dribbled past a ball screen, he slid to the ground and collided with Race Thompson’s knee, causing the Indiana to punch forward and punch back.
The game continued as Thompson sat on the hardwood of Carver Hawkeye Arena with tears streaming down his face. Kris Murray completed a put back layup and cut Indiana’s lead to 10 with 4:27 in the first half. Thompson wrapped his arms around Michael Shipp and Nathan Childress and hobbled to the locker room, his six-year career in Indiana — full of body and intensity — flashing before his eyes.
“The way it felt, the way it looked,” Thompson said. “I kind of thought my career here was over.”
Iowa beat Indiana by 12 points in the second half and overcame a 21-point deficit to earn a 91-89 win on January 5. On Monday, assistant coach Yasir Rosemond Thompson named Indiana’s defensive anchor and one of the smartest players on the team. With Thompson out indefinitely, the Hoosiers looked lost on the defensive end, leaving Northwestern and Penn State down more than 84 points.
In just over a month, Indiana went from 10th in the country to 1-4 in conference play and finished last in the Big Ten. But something changed after the defensive awkwardness at Penn State — something that points to Thompson’s style of play, even if he stayed out.
Indiana was on the defensive end and was beginning to mirror the unit that made up the Big Ten’s best defense during the 2021-22 season. After allowing over 83 points in a three-game losing streak, the Hoosiers held Wisconsin to 45 points and then held Illinois and Michigan State under 70 during three winning streaks that turned Indiana’s season around. Thompson knows that for Indiana everything starts with defense, and he said the Hoosiers can compete in every single game when they’re stopped.
“Since we started winning the last few games, the intensity has increased, the focus has been better,” Thompson said. “On the other hand, I think it makes everyone better to just compete in practice every day.”
Indiana coach Mike Woodson urged junior forward Jordan Geronimo to step up in Thompson’s absence, and he has responded. Geronimo hit his first career double-double against a Big Ten opponent in a 63-45 win over Wisconsin, and he added 13 points and eight rebounds in the Illinois win.
“I’m really happy for him and I texted him the whole time he was starting out and now he’s really coming into his own,” Thompson said. “I mean, I don’t think any of us are surprised because we see it every day… I think he’s earned the right to play that much and I have to try to get a few minutes back from him. Hopefully he can continue like this and continue to help us win.”
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While Thompson was on the road, he said he learned more about basketball by listening to Indiana coaches on the sidelines during games and by standing next to them during practice. He had more time to go over aspects of the game with coaches, which he felt gave him a new understanding of the game. With point guard Xavier Johnson out at the same time as a foot injury, Thompson said it’s like having two extra assistant coaches in Indiana.
Thompson said he lost confidence in certain things he would normally do if he were healthy, but he was constantly treated for his knee to improve movement and strengthen the surrounding muscles. He thanked the Iowa coaches and Indiana executive athletic coach Tim Garl for their quick work when he received MRIs and said he was feeling better every day.
His knee injury in Iowa wasn’t the first time he thought his career was over, either. Thompson gave a high-level late night speech and said he thought this would be his last home game this offseason. After 115 games and 76 starts as a Hoosier, he enters the final months of college with a new attitude.
Thompson returned to a standing ovation from the assembly hall Sunday against Michigan State — perhaps sooner than most expected. He played four minutes off the bench and didn’t score, but even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said his return gave Indiana a boost.
“When I come back I have more intensity and I want to train and be here,” Thompson said. “I’m just grateful, very grateful. When it happened, I felt like my whole career flashed before my eyes. Because it’s not over and I can still play, I think every day I’m just grateful to be able to come here, lift, be able to do extra work, be able to be with the guys to practice.
His presence will be even more apparent Wednesday at Williams Arena when Thompson, a Plymouth, Minnesota native, battles his home school. Thompson said he expects 50-60 family and friends, and games against Minnesota always have an added meaning.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Thompson said. “Usually not many people come to games. Normally nobody comes to games unless it’s an away game so it’s definitely good to have everyone there and it definitely means a little bit more. “
Indiana is on a five-game winning streak against Minnesota and is 7-1 against the Gophers since Thompson joined the Hoosiers in 2017-18. He plans to continue this series.
“I want to win,” said Thompson. “I never want to lose to my hometown team.”
- THOMPSON RETURNS AGAINST MICHIGAN STATE: Sixth-year Indiana forward Race Thompson has been out since his knee injury on Jan. 5 in Iowa but returned to action Sunday against Michigan State. CLICK HERE
- YASIR ROSEMOND RADIO SHOW: Indiana’s assistant coach Yasir Rosemond hosted the “Inside Indiana Basketball” radio show Monday along with play-by-play announcer Don Fischer. Here are the highlights of the show. CLICK HERE
- BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS: After Purdue, our firm spot at the top, the next four teams all lost last week. But they’ve done enough all season to keep their spots. Welcome to Volume 5 of our Big Ten Power Leaderboard, which has been a real challenge to put together. CLICK HERE
- JACKSON-DAVIS COLLECTS AWARDS: Senior Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was named Big Ten’s Player of the Week on Monday, and he also received several national awards after averaging 66 points in victories over Illinois and Michigan State. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA RECEIVES VOTES IN AP POLL: Indiana basketball just fell short of the Associated Press’s top 25 poll on Monday, earning 61 votes behind Duke’s 102. With losses from Houston and Kansas, Purdue returned to the top and is the only Big Ten team in that ranking Week. Here’s the full poll. CLICK HERE
- FAMILY DAY FOR BATES: It was a big day for the Bates family as second warden Tamar scored 17 points and his daughter Leilani won the baby race at halftime. CLICK HERE