The old Janee Thompson zips across the court and flies toward the ball.
The old Janee Thompson streaks into a passing lane and fires a pass down the floor for a layup.
The new Janee Thompson watches and waits.
Kentucky’s senior guard has been studying film of her old self — the one who broke a leg in a game at South Carolina, ending her junior season — and trying to will herself back there.
Coaches, fans and even teammates tell her that they can’t tell a difference between the old Thompson and the new Thompson a little more than a year from when she was injured.
But she can still feel a difference.
“I know myself,” said Thompson, second on the team in scoring at 12.7 points a game to go with 5.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds.
“I guess it’s because it’s me and I know when I see myself do something from last year, I’m not quite there,” she said recently. “I just know myself; I know what little moves I’m doing out there on the court and sometimes I don’t do those same things. That’s the only way I know.”
Thompson is a bit of a perfectionist and is waiting for her stamina and explosiveness to return completely from the surgically repaired left leg that had a plate inserted into it in January of last year.
I’m amazed at how well she’s done and we’re just now crossing that threshold of a year post-injury. So I think what I’m seeing from her is she’s getting better. She’s getting better, she’s moving better.
Matthew Mitchell, Kentucky coach
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell keeps reminding Thompson that she’s only a year out from that horrific injury.
“I’m amazed at how well she’s done and we’re just now crossing that threshold of a year post-injury,” Mitchell said recently of Thompson, who is averaging 33.1 minutes a game, seventh most in the Southeastern Conference. “So I think what I’m seeing from her is she’s getting better. She’s getting better, she’s moving better.”
Thompson pushes herself physically every day trying to get back to where she was.
But mentally there will be a brand-new hurdle for Thompson on Thursday night when she returns to Colonial Life Arena for the first time.
The Chicago native remembers every detail of the accident Jan. 11 that left her writhing in pain, her leg twisted in the wrong direction in front of a silent sellout crowd and a national TV audience.
She recalls every feeling, every sob after she was upended during a scramble for a loose ball with South Carolina’s Khadijah Sessions.
“I can’t imagine that that’s just going to be inconsequential,” Mitchell said of Thompson going back to South Carolina. “I think that will be tough.”
On Tuesday, as No. 18 Kentucky (15-5, 4-5 SEC) worked hard to bounce back from a two-game losing streak and to prepare for the No. 2 Gamecocks, Thompson wasn’t ready to think about the return trip.
“I don’t know how it’s going to be once I actually get there,” she said. “It’s not something I’m comfortable thinking about. It didn’t really affect me much when they came here, but the thought of me going back there is just kind of weird.”
Instead of focusing on her own trauma and pain, Thompson is trying to focus on her teammates and how UK can improve and perhaps upset the unbeaten Gamecocks (21-0, 9-0).
“That’s the only way I can get through it is not thinking about myself and pouring myself into my teammates,” she continued. “I try to do that all the time regardless, but I definitely think it will take a little bit of extra effort in this game.”
As for her improvement, Thompson doesn’t watch that past footage alone in a dark room with tissues in her hand and tears streaming down her face.
“I don’t think I’m chopped liver at this point,” she laughed. “I’m doing pretty well considering everything.”
She watches it as motivation. Thompson knows she has plenty of good basketball ahead of her.
“It’s not sad for me at all; it’s motivation,” she said. “I’m going to be that explosive again and I see it coming along every day with every practice and every game.”
No. 18 Kentucky at No. 2 South Carolina
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: WLAP-AM 630
Records: Kentucky 15-5 (4-5 SEC), South Carolina 21-0 (9-0)
Series: Kentucky leads 33-23
Last meeting: South Carolina won 73-62 on Jan. 14, 2016, in Lexington.
Kentucky’s probable starters
Reserves: 1-Batouly Camara, F, 6-2, Fr.; 2-Ivana Jakubcova, C, 6-6, Sr.; 24-Taylor Murray, G, 5-6, Fr.; 45-Alyssa Rice, C, 6-3, So.
South Carolina’s probable starters
Reserves: 1-Bianca Cuevas, G, 5-6, So.; 4-Doniyah Cliney, G, 6-0, Fr.; 10-Allisha Gray, G, 6-0, Jr.; 15-Tiffany Davis, G, 5-7, Jr.; 23-Tina Roy, G, 5-11, Sr.; 24-Sarah Imovbioh, F, 6-2, Sr.; 35-Kaela Davis, G, 6-2, Jr.; 40-Jatarie White, F, 6-4, So.; 44-India Farmer, F, 6-0, Jr.