July 16, 2017: The day Race Thompson began his journey with the Indiana men’s basketball program and announced his commitment.
A month earlier, the Golden State Warriors were named NBA Champions for the second time in three years. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was the highest grossing movie of the summer. Tom Crean had coached his last game for the Hoosiers in March. Thompson, who had turned 18 in June, was set to begin his senior year of high school a month later.
Instead, he came to Bloomington.
In a move that has now become the norm for highly scouted NBA prospects, Thompson reclassified, skipping his senior year of high school to redshirt at Indiana during the 2017-2018 season. He appeared in nine total games throughout his first two years as a Hoosier, scoring merely six points in 63 minutes of action.
During his redshirt-sophomore year — current senior Trayce Jackson-Davis' true freshman year — Thompson played in 29 out of Indiana’s 32 games, but his averages were still miniscule. It wasn’t until Thompson’s fourth season with the program that he broke out as one of Indiana’s most consistent and reliable players.
Thompson increased his points per game by 5.4, averaged over six rebounds and led the team in steals in 2020-21. Then-head coach Archie Miller named him a team captain and full-time starter, and the defensive specialist recorded three double-doubles during a breakout season, putting him on the rest of the Big Ten’s radar.
His “glue guy” identity started to take full form.
In the 2021-2022 season, Thompson averaged 11.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game en route to All-Big Ten Honorable Mention postseason honors. He was one of three players to start all 35 games, and he recorded just under 1,000 total minutes during the year.
Say what you will about the cliches behind Thompson’s on-court persona — the stats don’t tell the whole story, his intangibles make the difference, he’s the heartbeat of the team. There’s no denying Thompson is a solid, talented basketball player and arguably the most dependable piece of the program.
Now, he’s ready for one last go-around, and his legacy with Indiana basketball is on the line.
Thompson has lived through a lot at Indiana, not even just a full Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy and the entirety of Miller’s coaching tenure. He’s older than the top-three picks in the 2019 NBA draft — Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett — who are currently in their fourth season playing professional basketball. In fact, when Thompson started his collegiate career, Indiana’s current freshmen were a full year away from entering high school.
Now, he’s using his experience to help those players who are in the same position as he was when he first came to Bloomington.
“I've grown as a leader as I've been here,” Thompson said at Indiana’s media day Sept. 22. “I've been here for a while. I've been taught by the people who came before me. I'm trying just to pass my knowledge that I learned from them down on things that worked and things that didn't work, so we can build as a team and just be the best team we can be.”
The graduate student is in his third-consecutive season as a captain, and he knows head coach Mike Woodson and the rest of Indiana’s staff are relying on him to put the team on his shoulders.
“They really look to the older guys to show the younger guys what to do on defense, on offense,” Thompson said. “They really want us to be a player-led team, because they say player-led teams are the best teams.”
Thompson and his All-American counterpart, Jackson-Davis, have breathed life into the program with their leadership. The pair recognizes their irreplaceable role with the team and the ample trust Woodson has placed in his two captains, especially after multi-player suspensions and other controversies last season. Thompson and Jackson-Davis have molded the team to be their own, building a strong relationship with each person on the team in hopes of fostering on-court success.
“We’re great players, and we know how to play with each other,” Thompson said. “Me and Trayce know how to play together. If you add that relationship, then when you guys get on the court, you guys are able to work together and just play the game with each other.”
When the Race-Trayce duo decided to return to Bloomington for their last dance together, Thompson knew the 2022-23 season was set to be a special one.
“I really wanted to come back as a team,” Thompson said. “We've got a really deep team, really good freshmen coming in, really good returning players. The sky’s the limit for our team this year.”
As far as his legacy goes, Thompson isn’t asking for anything special. Indiana all-time leaderboards and national honors aren’t on his mind.
Instead, the captain wants to cement himself as a symbol of Woodson’s basketball culture and a reflection of the years he’s dedicated to the program.
“Just a great teammate and someone who would do anything to win a game. That's all I could ask for,” Thompson said. “A good teammate, good friend, that's really it. All the good stuff.”
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