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Monday, April 22, 2024

The number two represents a lot for sophomore transfer Lonnika Thompson.

First of all, it's her jersey number.

UF coach Amanda Butler will divide playing time between two point guards.

Dig a little deeper and you find that it is the number of high schools she attended.

And UF is her second college.

It happens to also be the number of left ankle sprains she has suffered.

But perhaps most significantly, Thompson and her family were given just two days to pack their lives and flee their New Orleans home in the face of Hurricane Katrina.

The guard ended up in Jonesboro, Ga., to live with relatives for the next seven months. The 2005 Louisiana Class 5A All-State First Team honoree had to start her senior season with a completely new squad.

She remembers being accepted by the people in Jonesboro.

"They knew everything that we were going through, but they didn't know how we felt about it," Thompson said. "They treated us like we were from Georgia and had always gone to school there."

Before the first playoff game in Georgia, her family headed back to New Orleans.

Though it wasn't really "home"- her family was forced to live in temporary residence near her school - Thompson finally returned to McDonogh No. 35 High.

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"I was very excited," she said. "I was real happy to be back home."

With Thompson back on the squad, McDonogh 35 made it to the 5A state championship game.

The 5-foot-4 guard received scholarship offers from Florida Gulf Coast, Chipola College, Monroe College and Trinity Valley Community College.

She decided on Trinity Valley and would be named to All-Region and All-Conference teams after her 12 points per game and 6.2 assists per game helped lead the team to the region semifinals.

Then, Butler came calling.

Thompson remembers the first phone call. The two discussed Butler's background as well as the guard's feelings about playing for the Gators.

"I really didn't know where I wanted to go," Thompson said. "I was like, 'Oh, Florida's not a bad idea. They have hurricanes, too,' but I wasn't really worried about it. … I know that UF is capable of winning championships. I decided I wanted to be a part of that."

Thompson said the fact that Butler used to play point guard for the Gators was a big selling point.

Butler coaches the point guards in practice and said the head coach-point guard relationship is key.

"It's something I put a lot of emphasis on," Butler said. "They have to be me when there's no timeouts left or my voice (is not in) the huddle. …You have to invest a lot of time to get them to the point where they do that."

Butler looks to split playing time between Thompson and fellow sophomore Brittaney Thomas.

Thomas is bigger and more of a natural scorer, who Butler said can "can do things other people on our team can't do."

Thompson is more of a traditional point guard and is better at running the offense and setting up her teammates.

Butler would not name a starter for Thursday's exhibition opener but said both should log plenty of minutes.

That shouldn't bother Thompson, as she's just looking to get back to being completely healthy.

She occasionally feels lingering pain from her pair of ankle sprains but thinks she is beginning to get back to full strength.

"It feels like I'm back to the old me, but the speed and everything still have to come back," Thompson said.

The rebuilding process continues back home in New Orleans as well.

The walls are finally upright again at Thompson's home, and they're starting to see some paint. Carpeting was even put in last week.

So while Thompson looks forward to the beginning of the season, forgive her if she can't wait for Christmas.

She might finally get to go home. For the second time.

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