Holmes finds solace in basketball

This story appeared in the Greater Chicago edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.

Basketball was the furthest thing from Lynette Holmes' mind on the morning of Aug. 29, 2005. It was her birthday, and though her hometown of New Orleans was under a hurricane watch, things didn't seem so bad.

"It wasn't how people say it was," Lynette says. "There was no rain. Just a lot of wind, some trees falling over. By 3 p.m., it was sunny and we were outside playing."

She began to worry only later when her father, Tommy Bray, told her the city's levee system had failed. So Lynette, her father, her three brothers and her sister grabbed a few belongings and took shelter across the street in a friend's apartment complex.

An hour later, water had reached the front steps. By the end of the night, the entire ground floor was flooded. After three days, Lynette and her family were forced to head to the roof. That was the extent of the plan -- none of them knew what would happen next.

"The only thing you can think about is dying," Lynette says. "You saw dead bodies floating by, alligators, people going crazy and jumping off roofs and burning stuff. You repent your sins and hope it's going to be OK."

It took two days for a helicopter to spot them. With women and children being evacuated first, Lynette and her siblings were separated from their father. It was the last time they would see him for two months.

The children were taken to a Red Cross shelter inside the Houston Astrodome and later to a temporary housing facility in San Antonio. Unbeknownst to them, their father had been rescued two days after them and transported to Illinois, one of many states that were taking in displaced residents of New Orleans.

Once they were able to reconnect, he sent plane tickets to the kids, and the family was soon reunited. With their home destroyed, they were in Chicago for the long haul. They knew no one in the area, but Lynette kept a positive attitude.

"We were like a family again," she says. "We got through it, and we were just happy to be together, no matter where we were."

Basketball became a way for Lynette to adjust to her new surroundings. While finishing eighth grade, she joined a local AAU team coached by Sabrina Meadows, who quickly became a trusted role model.

"It took a while for her to open up," Meadows says. "But we waited, and we found out what a wonderful person she is."

When Lynette enrolled at Bogan (Chicago, Ill.) the next year, she found another mentor in varsity coach Gary Bell. He worked with Lynette to refine her game, unlocking the potential that came along with her 6-foot-1 frame and natural athleticism.

She came to trust Bell's opinion, and when he suggested she join an AAU team that was coached by his friend, Xaver Walton, Lynette took the advice.

But before she could join the team, Walton (known as Coach X to his players) first had to convince Lynette's father that it would be in his daughter's best interests to leave the AAU team that had warmly welcomed her a year earlier.

"I met with Tommy for about three hours one night at their house," Walton says. "He wanted to make sure that I would do right by his daughter, and I shook his hand and told him I would. Then as I was leaving, he said to me, 'Where I'm from, when people give their word, they mean it.' He knew that I meant it."

Heading into her sophomore year, everything was going smoothly for Lynette. She was fitting in at school and making friends, and her mother (who was incarcerated at the time of the hurricane) had been able to move to Chicago and rejoin the family. Lynette's game also continued to blossom.

"Once she reached that comfort level, her level of play really took off," Bell says. "She was something to see."

But on April 23, 2008, Lynette was dealt another unfathomable blow. This time, her world was rocked by the death of her father, who passed away after battling kidney cancer.

Things started to fall apart all over again.

"My dad was my best friend," Lynette says. "After he passed, I was in a state of depression."

In addition to the overwhelming grief of losing a parent, the situation became even more difficult when Lynette's mother was unable to keep the family's house.

It was the second time in three years that Lynette and her family were left without a home. Her mother wanted to pack up and move back to Louisiana, but Lynette was unwilling to uproot her life again. She turned to basketball to help ease the pain.

"Playing became my everything," she says. "I'd get up early in the morning to hoop all day, every day, just so I wouldn't feel the hurt."

While the rest of the family went back to New Orleans, Lynette stayed behind. She wasn't alone, however. She put her faith in the people she'd met through basketball, and Meadows, Bell and Walton all came up big.

Meadows opened her home to Lynette, inviting her to live there while she finished high school. And when she needed a strong male role model, Bell and Walton were there for guidance.

With the help of her coaches, Lynette has been able to return to a state of normalcy. As a junior last year, the forward averaged 12.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game to lead Bogan to the sectional round of the Class 4A state tournament.

Lynette is now rated the nation's No. 83 recruit in the ESPNU HoopGurlz 100 and has committed to Xavier. But before heading off to college, she hopes to make the most of her final year at Bogan.

"I want to carry the team," Lynette says. "I want to put the team on my back and win us a championship. I don't think there's any five that can play with our five."

It's clear Lynette has come through her personal trials stronger than ever. And though she misses her family, she's been able to spend a week with them in Louisiana each of the past two summers. They'll be traveling to Chicago for her graduation this spring.

"My home is in New Orleans," Lynette says. "But now I feel like I have family here, too. I have Ms. Meadows, Coach Bell, Coach X and his wife, and they've meant so much to me. Without all their support and love, I know I wouldn't have made it."