It was Aug. 29, 2005, and Lynette Holmes' 13th birthday in New Orleans. The celebration, however, was interrupted by Hurricane Katrina. Instead of eating cake and ice cream, Holmes, her father and her four siblings found themselves seeking refuge from floodwaters on their rooftop.
When the helicopters finally made it to their home, the evacuation policy was to get the women and children out first and come back for the men. The five Holmes children were shipped out without their father, Tommy Bray, and placed with a neighbor, eventually being sent to Texas.
Holmes and her brothers and sisters didn't see their dad for about a month in the aftermath. Bray was rescued and taken to an airport with other displaced New Orleans residents, destination unknown. Holmes remembers her father telling her that he didn't know where they were sending him until the pilot welcomed everyone to Illinois.
With Holmes' mother, Azrean Holmes, serving time in Louisiana on drug-related charges, the family was divided.
Once he got situated in Chicago, Bray sent for his children. Four of the Holmes children, Lynette, her sister Paula and her brothers Jeremy and Joseph, rejoined their father while the eldest brother, Tony, stayed in Texas longer. Holmes laughs when remembering the first time it snowed in Chicago. Her younger brother Joseph came running to her saying the sky was dropping cotton.
Lynette Holmes' long journey to basketball stardom and a scholarship to play at Xavier University in Cincinnati was just beginning.
In time, Holmes learned to appreciate the region's cultural differences. In New Orleans most of the history she learned in school revolved around the two World Wars. In Chicago she was drawn to the rich history engrained in the community from the migration from within America, to the immigration from overseas, and even more so the city's role in civil rights movements.
"A whole lot of stuff originated in Chicago," Holmes said.
Not long after Holmes and her siblings moved to Chicago their mother joined them. Holmes ended up at Bogan High School for her freshman year and was an impact player at an early age. She also joined a relatively new club team in the area, the Illinois X-Citement, coached by Xavier Walton.
On April 23, 2008, the spring of Holmes' sophomore year at Bogan High School, her father passed away. The kids were unaware he was suffering from liver cancer.
"After my dad passed away I was really angry," Holmes said.
Making matters worse for Holmes, her family was split again. Once Bray died, the family was no longer eligible for state-subsidized housing because of Azrean Holmes' prior criminal convictions. So, the family returned to Louisiana.
Lynette Holmes, however, remained in Illinois, this time staying with various families under the watchful eye of Walton, her club coach. Holmes said she considers Walton a father figure and positive influence in her life. She cited her tremendous growth as a student as the biggest reason for her to stay in Illinois.
"Her freshman year she got two F's on her report cards," Walton said.
Now in her senior year Holmes proudly sports a 3.2 grade-point average and scored a 23 on her ACT standardized test.
Holmes found resolve and purpose when she sifted through the angry emotions of losing her father. Just a few days after her father passed, her club team had a game scheduled. Walton said he made sure she knew she had no obligation whatsoever to play that weekend. She called him three days later and told her coach she wanted to play because her father would want her to play.
And Holmes definitely came to play that day. She finished with a double-double, headlined by a 29-point scoring performance.
"I've learned to take things bad and put them in a new perspective," Holmes said.
On the summer basketball circuit Holmes is a high-energy player. The 6-foot-2 forward plays the game full throttle from tipoff to the final buzzer. Her play garnered her high acclaim, including being ranked among the nation's top 100 prospects by ESPN HoopGurlz.
The source of her drive, Holmes says, is her father. That drive aided her development as a player. She has always been a gifted athlete, but she has developed the tools to warrant scholarship offers from all over the country.
Holmes committed to Xavier, in part, because it's not a party school. It also provided her a sense of connection she'd lost after being displaced by Katrina, being separated for a time from her mother, losing her father, and then moving from family to family while at Bogan High School.
"It's not just basketball," Holmes said of Xavier, "it's a family atmosphere."