Race Thompson thought his career was over.
After an Iowa defender rolled on his leg during Indiana men’s basketball’s game on Jan. 5, the senior forward didn’t get up, instead grabbing at his knee and staring toward the ceiling both in pain and frustration at what the injury could signal.
“When it first happened, I thought it was pretty much over,” Thompson said Tuesday. “The way it felt, the way I knew it looked, I pretty much thought my career was wrapped.”
Thompson, now playing in his fifth season for Indiana after redshirting in 2017-18, returned to the court half an hour after his injury occurred, supported by crutches under both his arms.
Against Michigan State on Sunday, just over two weeks after his initial injury, Thompson was back on the court. He sported a heavy knee brace and played four minutes, picking up one steal and three fouls and scoring no points.
But he was back.
“Coming back, I have even more intensity and want to practice every day,” Thompson said. “That moment, the flash of everything here being done, (I'm) just being grateful to be able to continue to play here and have the last couple months to be able to be with the guys, be able to play and be healthy.”
Thompson thanked both Tim Garl, Indiana’s head athletic trainer, and Iowa’s training staff for quickly getting him treatment and an MRI.
Thompson said he’s working through the mental side of returning from an injury — making sure he has confidence in his knee to make basketball moves. For now, Thompson said he’s healthy physically, providing the Hoosiers with one more player in their rotation.
He’s not only returning to the lineup, but his second game back will be in Minneapolis, less than 15 miles from his hometown of Plymouth, Minnesota. The homecoming means Thompson will have 50-60 family members in attendance, per his own estimation.
“Going back home definitely means a little bit more,” Thompson said. “It means more to play in front of friends and family like that. It’s a lot of fun. I don’t usually get a lot of people coming to games unless it's an away game.”
Thompson will be challenging junior forward Jordan Geronimo for minutes. Geronimo has been starting in Thompson’s place and struggled mightily in Indiana’s three losses after Thompson’s injury, but he has seen a turnaround since, including his second career double-double against Wisconsin.
“With Jordan coming into a new role of playing more minutes, he’s been playing really well and I’m really happy for him,” Thompson said. “He’s earned the right to play that much, and I’ve got to try to get some minutes back from him.”
Geronimo has been essential to Indiana’s winning streak, especially when playing alongside senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis. In the last week, Jackson-Davis averaged 33 points and 12 rebounds, earning three National Player of the Week Awards and the Big Ten Player of the Week award.
After Indiana’s victory over Illinois, Geronimo said he was getting more familiar with Jackson-Davis' game the longer he was on the floor with him, learning when to cut or make moves to help Jackson-Davis.
Thompson has four years of experience playing alongside Jackson-Davis and will return beside him with little issue, whether head coach Mike Woodson places him back in the starting lineup or not.
Indiana’s increased confidence has come from the play of Jackson-Davis and Geronimo and will now receive a boost with Thompson’s return. All three will work to keep Indiana’s playing level high as it heads to play Minnesota at 9 p.m. Wednesday in Minneapolis.
“Since we started winning the last couple games, the intensity’s picked up,” Thompson said. “The focus has been better, just competing in practice every day is making everybody better.”