Lauren Avant ahead of schedule

The leap for freshmen from high school to college is a huge one on the basketball court, but Lauren Avant has aced the adjustment in the classroom. The honor student from an elite prep school in Memphis is already taking junior-level classes after accruing nearly 40 credit hours before the fall semester even began.

Tennessee freshman guard Lauren Avant continued her court education Tuesday during individual workouts and while she is finally physically fine after an assortment of pre-college injuries – most notably to her thumbs, knees and right shoulder – she is dealing with allergies and asthma, a common reaction for newcomers to East Tennessee.

"Physically, I am fine," Avant said. "Heather (Mason) has built me up really strong, stronger than I ever thought I could do. Jenny Moshak has done wonders for me. I have no complaints out of my shoulder, no problems with anything else. Nothing is bothering me. I feel great."

Now, if she can adjust to the climate and airborne particles, Avant would really feel better.

"I just found out I have asthma and really intense allergies," she said.

That treatment protocol involves inhalers and, if past protocol holds as it did for other first-year players, Avant will feel much improved by the official start of practice in early October.

"They told me it would take about a month to get over it … so two more weeks and then I'll be fine," said Avant, who persevered through her one-hour workout on Tuesday at Pratt Pavilion.

Avant was winded after the session but said she rested all weekend and expected to be full restored in terms of lung capacity by the end of the month.

"Dr. (Rebecca) Morgan has taken great care of me," Avant said of the team physician. "They just said it's going to take time."

Pat Summitt had said two weeks ago that Avant would not be a liability on defense – which is not common statement to make about a freshman – and she showed Tuesday that she has both lateral speed and the ability to contest perimeter shots.

Avant is a natural point guard who was selected as the captain of the varsity team at Lausanne Collegiate School as an eighth-grader and maintained the position for five seasons. She committed to Tennessee at the age of 14 – while still in elementary school she made trips to Knoxville with her mother, Dana Avant, to watch Tennessee play – and her high school has retired her No. 24 jersey.

Avant tallied 1,889 points, 1,072 rebounds, 881 assists, 770 steals and 218 blocks during her high school career. After a car wreck in the spring of 2009, she played just eight games as a senior in 2010. She earned the Tennessee Miss Basketball award for 2A in 2008 and 2009. She won a state title in 2006 as an eighth-grader, again as a sophomore in 2008 and runner-up as a junior in 2009 when she averaged 15.2 points, 9 rebounds, 7.8 assists, 8 steals and 2.1 blocks per game, her last full season on the court.

In terms of basketball, Avant feels like she is catching up, and she is soaking up the teaching of Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood, who ends up as soaked in sweat as the players during the workouts.

"I am learning so much," Avant said. "Dean does a great job of going in-depth, analyzing things to where I can understand it. It all comes together. He's good at big picture things. He's great at using metaphors. You do things and sometimes you don't really understand why you're doing them, and he just breaks it down. He maximizes your efforts and your energy.

"He's a man of many facts. He has a metaphor for everything. He can make them funny when you're down. He's an all-around good guy. I really appreciate his metaphors and his overall attitude. You can't help but to learn from Dean."

As far as the classroom, Avant is well ahead of schedule. With her senior season truncated by lingering issues from the shoulder that was injured in the car wreck, Avant focused instead on school. Lausanne offers a rigorous academic curriculum, and Avant loaded up on advanced placement courses that can be converted into college credits if a sufficient score is tallied on a cumulative test of the material.

"I killed myself," said Avant, who accrued nearly 30 college credits and still has an AP Spanish test to take for the possibility of more credits. "Senior year, I wasn't playing so I've taken so many AP classes. My school, we're not really athletically endowed. We're a very prominent academic school. They push academics."

Avant also completed 10 hours over the summer and is taking 16 hours this fall semester, so she could have as many 56 hours of credit midway through her freshman year of college.

"If I stay on track and I come during the summer, I think I can graduate (in a pre-med curriculum) the summer before my junior year," Avant said. "I am taking junior courses right now."

The 18-year-old seems more normal when she explains learning how to sort her laundry, a task her mother had always done for the teenager back home. Dana Avant gets an assist for the laundry basket she sent with her daughter to college.

"My mom helped me with that," Avant said. "My hamper has a dark side and a white side. I messed up once already, though. It's OK; it was only socks. I just have a bunch of purple socks."

Avant, a 5'9 guard, also has a support system in fellow freshman Meighan Simmons, a 5'9 guard from Cibolo, Texas. They share a dorm room on campus and make frequent trips to Pratt Pavilion for evening shoot-arounds.

"We're helping each other a lot," Avant said. "We're working with each other adjusting to school, adjusting to being without our parents, manage our money. We're in the gym shooting a lot. Since Pratt is available, we can just walk over here and shoot."

The freshmen also are adjusting to jam-packed schedules that include class, study hall, meetings, conditioning sessions, weights and court workouts.

"It helps us in life," Avant said. "We're learning the advantages of time management and being early and being in the real world. Everything doesn't revolve around you, and you have to adjust to other people. We're taking it in day by day."

So far the toughest adjustment for both freshmen has been first-year player duties.

"Taking all of the freshmen jobs, picking up all the trash, throwing the wet clothes in the bin, all the dirty work," Avant said.

Part of the adjustment on the court has been sharing it with players much larger than she encountered in high school.

"It's different seeing 6'6 faces like Kelley Cain and 6'4 faces like Vicki Baugh," Avant said. "So getting your shot up and having to make reads faster. You have to think ahead. You can get away with a lot in high school. You don't really think. You just kind of react. At the college level you have to think before you make a decision."

One adjustment that wasn't as difficult as Avant had anticipated was getting the admiration of her teammates.

"I was more nervous about gaining everybody's respect because I didn't get my senior year really," she said. "I was kind of off my rocker, off rhythm, but they've been great working with me, just being really encouraging. That was way better than I expected."

Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss has been helping Avant get in rhythm offensively. She has developed a habit of sometimes prematurely taking her left hand – the guide hand for a right-handed shooter – off the ball when shooting, especially from longer range.

"Until she can tell the difference of when she does it right and when she does it wrong … she's been shooting that way for so long she can't tell when she does keep her hand on it and when she takes it off," DeMoss said. "That is something we are definitely going to work with her on."

Avant has already shown a consistent midrange jumper, and the guide hand usually stays on the ball longer for those shots.

"She's got a beautiful jump shot, release, great elevation on her shot," DeMoss said.

Avant also is a pure point guard and the coaches are eyeing her to help relieve junior guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen.

"Number one with Avant we need help at the point position, and I think that is her true position," DeMoss said. "I think that is one reason why she could be very valuable to us this year. She's athletic, she's quick, and I think that's something that has probably been needed on the perimeter – some athleticism, some quickness and speed and she brings that as well."

Individual workouts focus on skills and relaying information – shooting, dribbling, footwork, defensive principles, terminology, etc. – so the coaches have not yet been able to evaluate the full team as NCAA rules allow no more then four players on the court in one session this early in preseason.

"It's kind of hard if you're trying to evaluate a point guard, and you're only seeing individuals," DeMoss said. "You don't see her decision-making, you don't see how she can run the team, get people where they're supposed to be, so that's still a question mark.

"With Meighan, if we're thinking more of a two guard, how is she shooting the ball off the pass, off the dribble, so we've really been focusing on skill work. We've been trying to get a lot of shots up. We're getting as many shots in as we can."

Summitt has put both freshmen on notice to be ready to contribute this season.

"She tells us she expects us to go out and play," Avant said. "She doesn't see freshmen on the roster. She reminds Meighan and I almost daily. She keeps us on our toes and tells us we're getting treatment like people that have been here two or three years, if not tougher.

"She told us that her expectations are really high for us to contribute and give a new dimension to the team. We get that a lot from everyone but Pat almost daily."

Lauren Avant also agreed to a video interview in which she explains how she started a fire trying to cook a soufflé and answers some other off-beat questions.

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