February 13, 2021 

Auburn’s Unique Thompson: ‘I am just doing what I have to do’

Thompson talks rebounding, playing in the SEC and the future

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While growing up in Theodore, Ala., playing basketball was of little interest to Unique Thompson.

Until nature took over.

“Growing up, my older brother played everything – basketball, football, baseball. I was just the younger sister, being a regular kid, following behind him,” Thompson said.

“Basketball was never really my thing until I got to high school and hit a huge growth spurt. Then everyone was saying, ‘You should play ball, you should play ball,’” she recalled.

“I tried it and I actually became good at it. I picked up the ball and this is what happened with it.”

This is a college career at Auburn, where the 6’3 senior is the national leader in rebounds per game (14.0) and offensive rebounds per game (6.1). She is also Auburn’s leading scorer (17.8 ppg) and has 13 double-doubles in 15 games this season.

Thompson has topped the 1,100-rebound mark for her career with 1,103; she is 15 shy of the Auburn career record of 1,118 held by Becky Jackson. Her next double-double will tie her with former Georgia star Katrina McClain for 11th in SEC history.

Not too bad for a kid who didn’t pick up a basketball until high school.

“I am just doing what I have to do. Putting in the hard work and keep pushing to get stronger, no matter what it is,” Thompson said. “My mom used to tell us, ‘Don’t let the ball use us. You use the ball.’ So I just did it to see what I could do with it.”

And the rebounding? It was her dad’s idea.

“Growing up, that was one of the things my dad told me to do. Just rebound. It’s something that has always stuck with me,” Thompson said. “I have to rebound. I have to go get the ball. If I don’t do anything else throughout the game, I will get a rebound.”

If there’s a shadow over the season for Thompson – who will graduate in the spring with a degree in rehabilitation and disability studies – it’s that her team is not winning.

Auburn is in last place in the SEC and is the only winless team in conference play at 0-11. Its overall record is 5-14. The team lost again Thursday night, this time to No. 24 Georgia.

Thompson finished that game with 22 points and 12 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the season and 55th of her career. She also added a team-high four steals.

“I thought Unique held it down for us and kept us in the game, as close as it could be,” said Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.

“Unique’s having a great season. She’s continuing to do what she does well – rebounding – but she’s also averaging high in her scoring as well,” Williams-Flournoy said. “I hate the fact that we’re not winning, because there’s so many games where she should have gotten a lot of recognition for putting up the numbers that she’s put up, because it’s not normal.

“She’s definitely lived up to her name of being ‘Unique.’”

When asked about the team’s lack of success this season, Thompson attributed it partly to youth and the toughness of the SEC.

“I feel like it’s us being young, not having a lot of experience. And playing in the SEC … it’s one of those things you won’t know until you get the experience and go through it,” Thompson said. “We have everything that we need; we just need things to manifest into what it needs to be and that would be getting a win.”

Thompson keeps herself motivated through this tough season by remembering her teammates are looking up to her.

“I can’t even lie: it’s hard,” she said. “But just knowing that I’m a leader on the team and I believe in myself and this team. I have to do this for them; they’re looking up to me and they’ll follow my lead.”

Despite Auburn’s record, Thompson has landed on several national award watch lists. The latest, announced this week, is the Katrina McClain Award, which recognizes the top power forwards in women’s NCAA Division I college basketball. Thompson is among the top 10 candidates for the award.

She was also named to the 2021 Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 watch list. Thirty players nationwide were named to the watch list as early front-runners for the Wooden Award All-American Team and the Most Outstanding Player Award. Thompson was also named to the preseason All-SEC First Team by both the SEC’s coaches and media. Last season, Thompson was named to the All-SEC First Team and was an honorable mention All-American.

During a recent break in practice, Thompson spent a few minutes answering rapid-fire questions from The Next.

What is your reaction to the recognition you are receiving? It makes me feel great. If you asked me if I would be doing any of the things I am doing right now, I would have looked at you and said you’re crazy. I didn’t think anything in my life would unfold the way it is unfolding right now. And I’m honestly grateful for it and just give the glory to God for everything that is going on right now and for what I am accomplishing.

Do you have dreams of playing in the WNBA? Yes! I’ll graduate in the spring and weigh my options.

Who is the toughest person you’ve played against in the SEC? It was my freshman year and I’d have to say playing against both A’ja Wilson and Mercedes Russell. They were experienced. Bigger and stronger and I was finding my way around.

What do people say about you behind your back? They probably talk about how much I love coffee and makeup. I’m a Dunkin’ (Donuts) coffee fanatic, original blend with caramel. I have to have it every day and I bring it to shootaround with me. I just have to have my coffee or it will be a rough day.

As for the makeup, I would sit and watch tutorials and just became good at it.

What is one talent you wish you had? Singing!

What keeps you motivated? My family, most definitely. Just knowing how close we are, how well they raised us. And my faith keeps me going. It impacts me throughout everything I do. Just knowing I have the ability and talent to play the game I love and I don’t take that for granted.

What is your pet peeve? I do not like when people smack and I do not like being tapped, like on my shoulder to get my attention. I don’t know where it came from. Those are two things I cannot deal with.

What is a trait you value most in a friend? Loyalty.

Who is your favorite player? Candace Parker. I love her game, the way she carries herself on and off the court.

What are your plans for life post-basketball? I want to have my own organization for people with disabilities and just bring a light to them. We need to bring a spotlight back to the things that are important and to those that actually need services. I have a few family members who do have disabilities, so that is what drew me to it. It’s just one of those things that stayed on my heart and I knew that this was my purpose throughout life.

Written by Dorothy J. Gentry

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