WEST LOOP — Of the six Chicago high school graduates participating in the women's NCAA tournament, five attended Whitney Young.
Two of those players, Kentucky sophomore Janee Thompson and freshman Linnae Harper, live in the same apartment.
"She's like family," Thompson, of Englewood, said of the South Shore native Harper. "We've grown up together, and she's one of my closest friends. With her here, it's like having a piece of my home here."
Third-seeded Kentucky hosts 14th-seeded Wright State (26-8) Saturday morning in a first-round matchup in Lexington. Thompson, the Wildcats' 5-foot-7 starting point guard who has a team-high 100 assists, and Harper, a 5-8 shooting guard off the bench who averages about 7 points per game, have been instrumental in guiding Kentucky to a 24-8 record.
"They definitely have a bond that has been developed through the years. They both bring unique qualities to the team," Kentucky seventh-year head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "I think probably the biggest benefit was just coming from a winning program and knowing what to expect in a winning program. That probably helped them more than anything. You can tell they are close and that they are good friends."
Thompson and Harper join Dolphins alums Chanise Jenkins (DePaul), Kiana Johnson (Michigan State) and Alexis Lloyd (USC) — all guards — in the NCAA tournament. Western Kentucky guard Chanell Lockhart, who went to high school at Chicago Vocational, is the only public school graduate in the tourney who didn't attend Whitney Young.
"I'm not sure why that's the case," longtime Whitney Young coach Corry Irvin said. "I would naturally like to see more players from Chicago in the tournament. I think over the last few years, our players have been really well prepared when they go to college, and that gives them a level up."
Irvin said Thompson and Harper — both McDonald's All-Americans in high school — have always played well together since they were middle-school AAU teammates, and that bond has extended to the college level. Harper said it doesn't hurt that she lives with Thompson and fellow Kentucky guards Jennifer O'Neill and Bria Goss.
"We're very comfortable with each other," Harper said.
So comfortable that Thompson was one of the first people Harper told of her decision to attend Kentucky, which she chose over Tennessee, Miami, Ohio State and UCLA.
Harper, who was ESPN's No. 2-ranked guard coming out of high school — the highest-ranked recruit in Kentucky's history — divulged the information to Thompson while they were driving around the UK campus.
"It took a second to sink in when she told me, but then I was really excited," Thompson said.
Irvin expects great things from her former guards while they're in Lexington. The Dolphins coach since 2001 has sent many players to the NCAAs, but she noted only one — former Oklahoma standout Amanda Thompson — has reached a Final Four.
Janee Thompson (no relation) would love if she and Harper could join that exclusive list.
"The Final Four has been our goal ever since I came to Kentucky, and that's where we want to be as a program," she said. "And now, Linnae and I are continuing to strive to get there."