BLOOMINGTON — Race Thompson didn’t disclose the exact circumstances of the moment when he realized he had to take Logan Duncomb seriously, whether he was posting up with his back to the basket or trying to box out for a rebound, but he does remember the substantial shove to his back.
“I was wondering who pushed me,” Thompson said Thursday at IU basketball’s media day, chuckling with a combination of surprise and bemusement. “It was Logan standing there. I was like, ‘Well alright, Logan. Here we go.'”
It was akin to the moment where the smaller kid on the block finally rises up against the bully who has been picking on him with impunity, but in this case there was more than one bully and they were really hoping this day would come.
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Thompson and his more celebrated IU frontcourt mate Trayce Jackson-Davis aren’t shy about saying they pushed around Duncomb, then a freshman center, in practice for most of last season. They were starters and double-figure scorers with grown-man strength, carrying more than 235 pounds of muscle each at 6-8 and 6-9, and he was a 6-10 stringbean trying hard to stay above 220. When they got the ball in the post against him, they did whatever they wanted, and they had no problem moving him out of the way to get rebounds.
That was just fine for them in practice and they had other teammates who could give them more resistance in forward Jordan Geronimo and center Michael Durr, but the Hoosiers essentially got nothing from Duncomb in games in 2021-22. The four-star recruit played a grand total of 19 minutes in just nine appearances. No other scholarship player on the roster played fewer than 118. He never played more than four minutes in a single game or more than two minutes in a Big Ten game. When he checked in, he was being used either as a human victory cigar or a white flag of surrender.
But the Hoosiers have seen a different Duncomb since the end of the summer, and Thompson and Jackson-Davis have been particularly impressed by his transformation. Jackson-Davis went so far as to say he believed a stronger Duncomb could handle the center spot for long enough stretches that he could move around.
“Logan is coming along really strong and I’ll be playing a lot more 4 this year and be able to showcase my abilities from (3-point range),” Jackson-Davis said. “… Logan is playing at a really high level right now. He’s rebounding the ball and he’s defending really well, especially just playing against me, and I’m just seeing it on the floor when I’m playing against him.”
The idea that Duncomb would get on the floor as a sophomore certainly didn’t seem to be a far-fetched idea when he was recruited. He was an all-around big man at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati, averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game as a senior and helping Moeller to an Ohio state championship as a sophomore. He was the No. 73-rated player in the Class of 2021 and the No. 12-rated center. Players of that caliber don’t always start as freshmen and they certainly don’t unseat All-Americans like Jackson-Davis but they generally at least play.
But Duncomb had a number of issues that set him back in his freshman year, starting with a three-game suspension to start the season and continuing with a number of other maladies including a lower leg injury that put him in a walking boot for part of the season.
“The thing with Logan is last year, it was every other week he was sick,” Jackson-Davis said. “Even in May he got his tonsils out and he was 215.”
Duncomb’s physical issues just added to the feeling he was swimming. He could barely provide any resistance to Jackson-Davis, who was in the midst of his third straight All-Big Ten season and trying to make a case to pro scouts that he belonged in the NBA. So physical issues became confidence issues, as Duncomb began to lose confidence.
“I was playing good competition in high school, but no one quite like Trayce,” Duncomb said. “It’s just getting used to playing strong, skilled guys like that who are much better than high school. … It took a little bit to get the confidence up that I belonged here.”
Duncomb said he started to get some confidence towards the end of last year, even though it didn’t lead to much additional trust from the coaching staff, but this offseason in particular he put all of his focus into gaining weight. He’s listed at 235 pounds now, but his teammates say he’s closer to 240. He’s not exactly chiseled yet, but there’s definitely more muscle there than there was a year ago.
“He really locked in this summer and focused on his body,” Thompson said. “He took the weight room seriously and he took the protein shakes seriously, took putting on that weight seriously. He knows that he can hold his own and it’s only up from here for him.”
Jackson-Davis said he could tell the difference at some point in August when Duncomb was defending him.
“At the end of the summer, all of a sudden he’s like 245, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?'” Jackson-Davis said. “He put on some weight and I’m trying to move him back, and he’s just holding ground I’m like, ‘Alright, alright.'”
Duncomb himself felt like a different player.
“For me, it was a lot about confidence,” Duncomb said. “I’m more confident in my ability to play now, more confident in my size and what I can do on the court. I’m playing hard and doing what I have to do for the team.”
In practice, that’s created production in a number of different areas, which has given Jackson-Davis confidence that Duncomb can give the Hoosiers minutes at the 5. That’s important because with Durr having transferred to Central Florida, the Hoosiers don’t have a true backup center. Thompson can play there and so can freshman Malik Reneau, but both of them are more natural power forwards, and Reneau in particular brings a perimeter game that’s too far advanced already to be stuck in the post.
“He’s been playing really hard,” Jackson-Davis said. “He’s been running the floor really hard, getting rebounds, making good post moves. If he can just be solid like that, I expect to see him play.”
And Jackson-Davis thinks Duncomb can play with him in the game. At 6-9, 245 pounds, Jackson-Davis projects more as a power forward than a center in the NBA, and part of the reason he’s never felt confident enough to stay in the draft is he hasn’t proven himself to be an outsider shooter is enough. At this stage in the NBA game, an outside shot is desired even among centers and it’s virtually required among power forwards. Jackson-Davis has yet to make a 3-point shot in a game in three college seasons and he’s only attempted three. He’s hopeful with Duncomb’s help he can spend more time on the perimeter and show off that part of his game.
“I think it’s going to be huge for us,” Jackson-Davis said. “… I think Logan is going to actually provide a lot for us this year.”