Race Thompson tried football.
The son of former Gophers star and NFL running back, Darrell Thompson, was already a 6-foot-1 running back by the sixth grade. Same height as his dad. He showed potential as a quarterback in the ninth grade.
But Thompson decided to stick to basketball this year at Armstrong High School.
You could say the hardwood is his calling like football was to his dad. Thompson’s combination of power and finesse at 6-foot-8, 220 pounds make him one of the nation’s top prospects in the 2018 class.
The Gophers were the first major conference program to offer Thompson a scholarship last year. In my Sunday profile on Thompson's father dedicating his post-NFL life helping his kids and others, the talented junior forward talked about the Minnesota offer being a big deal not just because his father went to the U.
“Honestly, when I get recruited by the Gophers, I try to forget that my dad went there,” Race Thompson said. “I feel like I probably would feel at home with the Gophers, but I kind of just want to make the right decision and go where my heart tells me to go. When I narrow it down, we’ll just see where it ends up.”
Thompson pays attention to current Gophers players, especially freshmen Amir Coffey and Michael Hurt from Minnesota.
“They’re going to play right away; they’re going to help the team get better,” he said. “It’s cool to think they’re from Minnesota. I always keep that in mind.”
Gophers coach Richard Pitino and assistant Ben Johnson followed Thompson around the AAU scene this summer playing for D1 Minnesota 16s. A 41-point performance in July in Las Vegas came in front of several major conference coaches. Arizona State, Northwestern and Creighton offered him soon after the game, joining Marquette, Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska.
Thompson attributes his breakout summer to improving strength and toughness inside. He was already a bouncy forward who could stretch defenses from three-point range and take opponents off the dribble.
“I used to want to not be physical,” he said. “But this summer, I definitely got more physical. I became more of a leader. I was more of a quiet person on the court. But when I’m a leader I think it helps out my team. I don’t want to be a one-dimensional player. So I’ll mix it up in the game. I’ll post somebody up and make a strong move. But on the next play, I’ll shoot a three. Next play, I’ll try to drive and take somebody off the dribble and score on the fastbreak. I try to change up my game a lot, so people can’t predict what I do next.”
In-state in 2018, Pitino has offers to Thompson, Apple Valley point guard Tre Jones, DeLaSalle shooting guard Gabe Kalescheur and Cretin-Derham Hall center Daniel Oturu.
Thompson might have the most potential of any Minnesota player in the junior class. He'll face presssure soon from local fans to follow his dad to the U. But he won't be influenced by that, just like he decided football wasn't for him this year.
“There’s no internal pressure for my kids to go to the University of Minnesota,” Darrell Thompson said. “(The Gophers) have to want my kid. If they want my kid and my kid wants them, then they should go to the U of M. But there’s no pressure to go there.”