Race Thompson has the potential to be the top prospect in the state of Minnesota's 2018 class -- and if you ask him he already has the the all-around skills to be an impact recruit.
The 6-foot-8, 220-pound Armstrong forward is the top priority for the Gophers and one of four in-state juniors who have been offered scholarship by Minnesota coach Richard Pitino.
Thompson, who has offers from Baylor, Creighton, Iowa State, Marquette, Nebraska, Northwestern and others, has seen Pitino's Gophers show major progress this season. He made unofficial visits to campus and attended games before Minnesota's 15-2 start and national ranking heading into Wednesday's game at Michigan State.
What Thompson is watching the most with the home state program is how Pitino uses talented freshman Amir Coffey. He spoke to the Star Tribune last month at Performance Athletix in Eden Prairie about the Gophers, recruiting, his non-traditional workouts and where he should rank in the state’s junior class.
Q: What are your impressions of the Gophers this season?
A: Amir has impressed me a lot. I like the way he’s playing. I wouldn’t say we have a (totally) similar game. But he’s a taller guy who can handle the ball and shoot threes and mix it up inside. I definitely watch him the most when I watch the Gophers. It’s nice watching him play, score the ball, play defense. At the (level) he’s playing at, it’s all good for him.
Q: How much would it mean in recruiting you for the Gophers to continue winning and make the NCAA tournament?
A: The fact that they’re winning definitely takes them up a notch. But just because they’re winning I’m not going to let that affect where I feel most at home. It’s pretty much what I look for when I go on visits and stuff – I just want to feel at home and feel comfortable.
Q: Your father, Darrell, was a great football player at the U. Coffey’s father, Richard, was a basketball standout. Do you feel there are people expecting you to play for your dad’s alma mater and follow Coffey's path?
A: My dad doesn’t pressure me at all. He’s open to if I wanted to go all the way to California or all the way to wherever. He’s not going to say you can’t go there. I don’t want you to go there because it’s too far. He’s not going to say, “Go to Minnesota. Go to Minnesota.” He wants me to go where I can be the best. That’s pretty much it. My dad likes the U, but I don’t think he has it that he wants me to go there in the back of his mind. Amir’s dad played basketball, so he knows the program inside and out. My dad played football, so he knows the football team better. He just wants me to go wherever I want.
Q: What are the things you want to see the most in a college basketball program?
A: When I step into the locker room I want it to feel like my brothers. I don’t want it to be groups of guys hanging out. I want everybody to get along really good. Just like a family in there.
When I’m looking for a college, I’m looking for coaching staffs, relationships and style of play. I want to play up and down. I don’t like slowing the ball down. I want to get it and score up in the 80s and 90s. I want to score a lot and play high-intensity D. Just be able to get the ball and play the point guard on the fast break.
Q: Does Minnesota's 2018 class face more pressure to stay home because nobody did this year?
A: There’s pressure to stay home, but I don’t think we’re letting that get to any of us. We just play our game and we all want to play where we feel at home. (Pitino and his assistants have) been hitting me up a lot. The Gophers definitely show me some love. It’s nice to feel that.
Q: How cool is it to be part of such a loaded in-state class with guys like Tre Jones from Apple Valley, Daniel Oturu from Cretin-Derham Hall, Gabe Kalscheur from DeLaSalle, Orono's Jarvis Thomas, Esko's Adam Trapp and others?
A: It’s a lot of fun to be in a class like this. We’re all friends. We all get along, but as soon as we step on the court we like going at each other really hard. We just push ourselves to get to the next level. It’s just fun to be in the class of 2018 with all the talented players.
Q: Are you the best player in the junior class in Minnesota (he’s been ranked second and third in the state in several recruiting services like Rivals, Scout and 247Sports)?
A: I think I am (No.1), but we don’t look at it like that. I think anybody from No. 1 through No. 8 could be the best in the class. It’s just ranked how it is.
Q: I’ve heard you have a different way of doing workouts than many athletes your age?
A: Coming to Performance Athletix (uses Athos performance monitor system) has escalated my game to another level. Being able to be stronger than most people I go up against, which I wasn’t last year, is great. I was getting pushed around a little bit being off balance. Last year, I played inside but I wasn’t as strong as I was outside. Now it might be even better than my outside game, because I’ve gotten so much stronger. I’ve never really lifted weights – probably three times in my whole life. I do pushups, sit-ups, core, leg and arm training without weights. You would think it’s like, "What am I doing?" It doesn’t really show you how strong you are. But your core and back, the muscles you can’t really see, really help you be stronger than your opponents. And since I came here about a year and a half ago, I’ve gained 15 pounds of muscle.
Q: How does it feel to have even more responsibility to be Armstrong’s star player this season?
A: I feel the weight on my shoulders, but I don’t feel pressure. My teammates might not be all Division I players, but they are all good basketball players. They know their roles and fit perfectly the way we play.
Q: What are your biggest strengths as a player?
A: My biggest strength are being able to shoot and also handle the ball after rebounding it, just being able to push it, pass to my teammates and lead the fast break. In the half court, I can go by a bigger or slower guy. If they help on defense, I can pass it out. College coaches say they want me to play how I do now when I go to college. I hope not much is going to change.