Overcoming Adversity Defines Thompson's UK Career

It’s been anything but smooth sailing for Janee Thompson at Kentucky.

Her relationship with her coach was contentious early in her career. She’s dealt with injuries, both minor and catastrophic. To go with a bunch of big wins, there have been some heartbreaking losses.

But here Thompson is now, a mature young woman on the eve of Senior Night with a good chance to lead her Kentucky team to unprecedented heights. 

“When you can come through adverse times better on the other side, it is always great,” Thompson said.

Thompson came to UK a highly touted point-guard prospect. She had every reason to believe stardom at the college level would come immediately. And in fact, it did.

Seven games into her Kentucky career, Thompson came off the bench to lead the Wildcats to a comeback win at top-10 Louisville. She capped her 14-point performance by hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with less than 10 seconds left.

The game, however, only served to mask the difficulty of Thompson’s adjustment to the college game and the trouble Mitchell had getting through to her.

“You know, coming into college it was really hard and he really challenged me and pushed me really hard,” Thompson said. “He made it uncomfortable and I didn’t like it at times.”

That’s a far cry from the current state of things, as Thompson serves as an on-court extension of Mitchell. That growth makes for a unique bond between the two.

“It hasn’t always been easy, but a relationship like I have with Janee is particularly gratifying when you butt heads so many times and it seems like you are just spinning your wheels and not going anywhere and then you get out on the other side and you see that it has been worth all the work,” Mitchell said. “She is really special to me. We had some real rocky times and I have a lot of respect for where she has ended up.”

But Thompson didn’t arrive without a few more bumps in the road, most notably the gruesome dislocated ankle and broken fibula that ended her junior season far too early. After long months of rehab she made her return, just in time to watch as four of her teammates elected to transfer before the start of the season.

Thompson was UK’s rock throughout.

“I am just really proud of her leadership,” Thompson said. “It has been significant for a team that was weakened by the defections at the time, but now I think we are out on the other side stronger because of everything that we have gone through and know that there is no way we would be here without her leadership.”

Behind Thompson UK raced out to an 11-0 start to the season, but a three-game losing streak sent the Cats to 15-6 just 20 days ago. Since then, the Cats have won four in a row to run their record to 19-6 (8-6 Southeastern Conference).

“It wasn’t going that great at times for us in the SEC, especially that start that we got off to,” Mitchell said. “She and I had a meeting about what we needed to do and she has just been a tremendous leader for us and she has made all corrections I have asked her to make. I just really admire where she is and where she ended up and we are going to have a great end to this season, I really believe, because of her leadership.” 

And for one final test, Thompson went down in UK’s last game with a sprained ankle. She missed most of the second quarter and the entire second half with the injury, but does not intend to let it cause her to miss Senior Night vs. No. 24 Missouri (21-6, 8-6 SEC).

“I am just getting a lot of treatment and trying to get it healthy and I plan on being out there tomorrow,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Thompson, you see, counts last season’s Senior Night as her favorite memory as a Wildcat. She was sidelined with that season-ending injury, but watched as UK sent Bria Goss, Jennifer O’Neill, Azia Bishop and Jelleah Sidney off with an upset win over No. 2 South Carolina.

She wants a moment like that of her own.

“It had nothing to do with me really, I didn’t play one minute in that game, but it was just a really special moment for those girls,” Thompson said. “They are still like my sisters and I just felt really good about the way we were able to send them out on their Senior Night. So hopefully we can do the same tomorrow.”