Thompson had long journey home


Sophomore guard Lonnika Thompson has started Florida's last 10 games and is averaging 3.8 points per game.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 11:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 11:21 p.m.

As Hurricane Katrina surged toward the Gulf Coast in late August, 2005, Thompson, her brother, Lonnie, and father, Lonnie, fled from New Orleans to Jonesboro, Ga., to stay with relatives.

Thompson's mother, Charlotte Baptiste, and grandmother, Betty Baptiste, left to stay with relatives in Mississippi. None of them foresaw the subsequent disaster.

"I just thought we'd have a lot of rain and wind and we'd be back home in three days," Thompson said.

The storm flooded the family's home. Thompson was stuck in Jonesboro, Ga. She said about 30 members of the family stuffed into her cousin's three-bedroom house. Unable to return home, Thompson was forced to enroll at Jonesboro High School. She started her senior year far from her home and friends.

"It was different atmosphere than New Orleans," she said. "People dressed different. People listened to different music. I really didn't know how to fit in. I was just trying to be myself."

Finally, McDonogh 35 re-opened in January, 2006. Thompson and her brother returned home, stayed with a family friend, and graduated from their hometown high school. But still, life was not the same. Their home was still in ruins.

Colleges lose track of Thompson

Prior to Katrina, Thompson was being recruited by Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and the University of New Orleans. Even though Thompson's father kept schools notified of where his daughter was, there was no longer the same interest.

Out of options, Thompson landed at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. Thompson excelled on the court, leading TVCC to its sixth straight conference championship during her freshman season.

Suddenly, Thompson got a phone call that floored her. New Gators head coach Amanda Butler called last April and wanted Thompson to take a recruiting visit to Gainesville.

"I couldn't believe it was her calling," Thompson said.

Butler started recruiting Thompson just weeks after being on the job.

"What drew me to her was the fact that we needed a point guard and we arrived on campus without one," Butler said. "Then we said, 'What point guards are left in April that are capable of making us better?' She stood out more than anyone else that was available."

Thompson took a visit and instantly signed. She arrived at UF in July and has become an immediate contributor. Thompson has started Florida's last 10 games and is averaging 3.8 points per game.

But nothing she has done on the basketball court could compare to the emotions she felt last month when she finally returned home.

Rebuilding a home

Months after Katrina, Charlotte Baptiste finally got a look at the destruction brought on her home. Her friend, a detective, was able to grant her access to the Lower Ninth Ward.

When Baptiste arrived at her home, she was moved to tears. Everything was ruined.

"The living room was in the kitchen and the kitchen was in the living room," she said.

While the inside of the house suffered water damage, the infrastructure was sound. Repairs on the house began last May. By November, the house was rebuilt. It was one of the few houses that have been rebuilt in the area.

"All of us just wanted to be back in our house," Thompson said. "It was a long process. We got a lot of people to work on the house and put it together how we wanted."

Thompson, however, finally got the first glimpse of her old home turned new in December. Following the Gators' 83-77 win over Saint Louis on Dec. 22, Thompson drove from Gainesville to New Orleans with her mother. After more than two years, Thompson was finally home.

"I didn't go in at first," Thompson said. "I came back to the front, then I went inside and walked into every room, looked at every door. I looked at everything. It was basically the same but brand new."

While she was home, Thompson picked out a new bedroom set. It wasn't delivered, however, until after she returned to Gainesville. Thompson said she will return home this summer and stay for a few months.

"She can't wait to get back to her room," Baptiste said. "I'm fixing it up."

For the better part of two years, that's all Thompson really wanted.

"It's home," Thompson said. "It's all I know."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top