BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Al Durham didn’t have to think about it. The answer came to him quickly when asked who has stepped up during the offseason in terms of leadership.
“I feel Race has stepped up tremendously this year,” Durham said.
The first wave of players returned to campus on June 18, and the rest arrived July 1. They've had a chance to work out on the floor together in limited groups the past couple of weeks, and Indiana coach Archie Miller has noticed that the level of leadership across the roster is the best he has seen during his time at Indiana.
Joey Brunk will be a senior this season after transferring from Butler a year ago, but Durham is the lone four-year senior on the team. He has practiced and played with Thompson, who redshirted his freshman season, for all four years, and he is impressed with how outspoken Thompson has been so far.
“Race has really stepped into a role of leadership and helping lead the guys, the younger guys, and taking them under his wing and teaching them how to do certain things and how we operate as a team,” Durham said. “He’s been doing very well.”
Thompson had a bit of a breakout season last year, emerging as one of Indiana’s vital frontcourt pieces in the bulk of Big Ten play.
Early in his Indiana career, it was all about defense in short spurts of play for Thompson. But now that former starter Justin Smith has transferred to Arkansas, there will be more minutes available in the front court, with Thompson expected to inherit some of those. He will share time with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Brunk in he interior spots as well.
Thompson is one of the quieter players on the team, but with a larger role on the menu for the 6-foot-8 forward this year, communication will be key.
“Joey has always been a great leader,” Durham said. “I feel like I’ve taken some part in that as well, but I feel like the one that has shocked the most of us is Race. Race has done a great job with that, and Race has really stepped his game up and stepped his communication up tremendously.”
In Indiana’s final nine games last season, Thompson played 21 or more minutes in six of those, which is well above his career average of 12.1 minutes per game. It was in that stretch where Thompson picked up the slack for Brunk, who was struggling at the time, and began to affect the game on both sides of the floor — not just on the defensive side.
Some of Indiana’s most efficient lineups last season were when the Hoosiers went small. With a lot more depth in the backcourt this season, Miller said a three-guard set could be much more likely than it was a year ago.
Those lineups thrive the best with Thompson and Jackson-Davis spearheading the frontcourt combination. They are both athletic and have both been working on stretching the floor this offseason. Thompson provides more spacing on the floor than Smith did last season, which will only give Jackson-Davis more room to work in the post.
Thompson can also switch on ball screens and recover quicker on hedges, which is where Brunk struggled defensively last season. The Minnesota native also has a relentless motor crashing the offensive glass, an area Indiana prides itself on.
All-in-all, the stars are aligning for Thompson to have a breakout season. His comfort with becoming a leader on the floor is only going to propel his game, and Thompson credits that to his experience over the last few years.
“I think it just has to do with being around, being comfortable with everybody, knowing that everybody trusts me, knowing that my coaches trust me,” said Thompson, who was chosen to be on a Big Ten Conference's Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition group this summer. “Knowing all that stuff just makes it easier for me to have a voice for the younger guys because I’m going into my fourth year here, so I know stuff.”
“I can help people out. It’s really just easy because I already know, so it’s just teaching the younger guys, teaching everybody because I feel like I know what’s going on.”
- ARCHIE MILLER NEWS CONFERENCE: Check out what Indiana coach Archie Miller had to say Tuesday night when he met with the Indiana media for the first time since mid-March. CLICK HERE
- PLAYERS SPEAK OUT ON DIFFICULT OFFSEASON: Al Durham, Rob Phinisee, Joey Brunk, Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis all shared stories on how they've stayed mentally strong and dealt with issues this offseason. CLICK HERE