“It’s like looking at myself almost.”
During the pre-Michigan State game media availability, senior Juwan Morgan was asked about practicing against redshirt freshman teammate Race Thompson. He sees a lot of himself in Race.
The similarities in their player profiles are there. Not only are both players showcasing a 6’8″ frame at around 225 pounds, both forwards were ranked just outside of the top 100 for their respective classes.
“I was the same way coming in. Just going out there playing hard, not really looking to score.”
As senior captain Juwan Morgan wraps up his final year in the cream and crimson uniforms, Hoosier fans have been nervous about identifying who will step up in his place. Not only are they losing this team’s undisputed leader, but they are losing front-court presence that has been keeping up with the league’s best of the best.
Juwan is producing an average of over 14 points and over 8 rebounds per game this season.
While an immediate replacement may not arrive in this season or even the next, Indiana fans can at least exhale for the moment because of who Juwan Morgan has brought under his wing for an assumed quite some time. There is clearly a tightly knit mentorship bond between Juwan and Race.
That was on clear display during Indiana’s thrilling double overtime victory against a #19 ranked Wisconsin badger team.
Having battled a serious concussion injury after sitting out for his freshman year, Race Thompson came into the that game with only 20 minutes of game experience.
If you did not hear that statistic from the broadcast, you would never actually know that fact watching the game.
With Juwan and De’Ron Davis in foul trouble, Race tapped in and played nothing short of incredible defense against one of the Big Ten’s leading player of the year candidates Ethan Happ. He kept up toe to toe with the Badgers and most importantly held his own against the Wisconsin front court in crucial minutes in the double overtime.
Race Thompson would end up doubling his total career minutes and play a pivotal role in a much needed Indiana victory.
However the most special moment of the evening took place just seconds after the marathon of a game.
Assigned by Archie to watch the baseline for a final Wisconsin inbound, Race Thompson give the responsibility to secure a Hoosier win made possible by a Romeo Langford lead-taking bucket. He delivered. Race disrupted the play enough so that the final faulty play fizzled for the Badgers.
Wide smiles and all, Race walked off the court with the rush of emotions from the game. Not only was this his first game with significant minutes, this game was major considering Wisconsin’s top 20 ranking.
He made a direct beeline to Indiana bench.
He didn’t get in the handshake line right away. He didn’t walk to the coaches. He didn’t walk to his family. He didn’t chat with his friends that came to watch him play.
Who did he go to? None other than his mentor Juwan.
What did he need? One of the most emotional Indiana basketball hugs that fans have seen in a very long time.
Race displayed an obviously enormous amount of appreciation for Juwan, and in reverse Juwan was certainly a proud captain of his mentee that he can relate to more than anyone else on the team. Juwan has been there and done that, and he can provide more relevant guidance to Race than any of the staff member.
The 2015 recruiting class in retrospect may be one of the most talented of all time. Not only are former Indiana stars OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant getting significant NBA minutes on post-season contending teams, Juwan Morgan arguably had the most impactful career for the Indiana basketball program among the three.
Replacing Juwan is no small task, and the truth is that it is unfair to hold those expectations on Race Thompson. If Race Thompson is half of the player that Juwan developed into, Archie Miller and the staff should be thrilled.
But Race smartly picked his own mentor, his role model, and in just a handful of actual game minutes, he is seeing that decision pay off. Couple that with Juwan taking that responsibility upon himself to develop his younger teammate and to pass the torch onward represents all the right and wholesome things about Indiana basketball.
This is what Indiana basketball is all about.