Lauren Avant to depart Tennessee

For the second time in as many days, Tennessee announced a player was departing from the Lady Vols basketball program. In this case, it's freshman point guard Lauren Avant, who intends to transfer to a smaller school and focus on her pre-med curriculum.

The news about Lauren Avant comes one day after the announcement that Kelley Cain, a 6'6 center, would forego her fifth year of eligibility because of chronic injuries and pain that she battled through the past three seasons. Cain is scheduled to graduate this May with a degree in marketing with an emphasis on logistics.

Cain's departure was not a surprise as she has played hobbled during her tenure at Tennessee, but the news about Avant, who also had a history of injuries, wasn't expected.

"Lauren came to me today and we talked about her freshman year and all of the medical challenges she faced on and off the court," Pat Summitt said Wednesday. "Things never seemed to fall in place for her with regards to basketball.

"I want Lauren to be successful and happy. She is a tremendous student-athlete who is serious about going to medical school and becoming an orthopedic surgeon. She hasn't ruled out playing basketball at a smaller school but her focus is on her academics."

Avant will complete the spring semester and then return to her hometown of Memphis, where she excelled in prep school at the academically rigorous Lausanne Collegiate School. With advanced placement credits and a full year at Tennessee, Avant is already a junior in the classroom after just one season on the court.

"We had a really, really good visit, and she was very open," Summitt said. "She said she thought about it quite a bit and she didn't feel like a Division I program was the best for her. She said, ‘I've gone through and a lot of things, and I don't know what I'm going to do, but I am not looking for anything other than maybe Division II or III.'

"She seemed to be in a good place. If someone has a reason that they don't want to be here, we want to support them. I gave her my blessing to find a school you want to find, and we appreciate you. I know she has been through an awful lot.

"I said, ‘You had a lot of injuries so hopefully you can get healthy and if you decide you want to play somewhere else, I give you my blessing as well with that.' "

The 5'9 guard had allergy and respiratory issues to start the preseason last August and then suffered a series of injuries from nerve damage in her hand to a severe ankle sprain, both of which robbed her of considerable practice time. Avant also suffered a concussion in the last week of the regular season.

Avant had missed summer workouts before her freshman year because she was still rehabbing a serious shoulder injury suffered in a car wreck that limited her to eight games in her senior year of high school.

Avant played in 19 games off the bench for Tennessee and averaged 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 8.0 minutes per game. She preserved the Lady Vols' perfect record in the SEC in the come-from-behind victory at Vanderbilt on Feb. 13 when she sparked the team in the second half with a season-best 11 points. Her on-ball defense turned the game back in Tennessee's favor.

"With her health that kind of set her back basketball-wise, but when she got on the floor, she gave us everything she had," Summitt said. "She was a great teammate, and I wish her the very best."

Summitt didn't try to change the mind of Avant, who committed at the age of 14 and has been a Tennessee fan since she was a child. Her mother, Dana Avant, is a Tennessee graduate and works in nursing administration in Memphis.

"When I talked to her, she said, ‘Coach, this is what I really feel like in my heart that this is what I want to do,' " Summitt said. "I said, ‘Then, that's what you need to do.'

"I think with the injuries and also thinking about being closer to home and not having the pressure of Division I here at Tennessee, she just said she wants a smaller school."

Assuming no other player departs – and Summitt said she didn't anticipate anyone else leaving – the Lady Vols return nine players with three incoming freshmen for a roster of 12. Six players will be seniors so the roster would cut in half after next season.

Tennessee didn't fill one spot in the class of 2011 and now has two more open with Cain and Avant leaving, so the Lady Vols could add players for next season.

"We've been looking," Summitt said. "I am anticipating adding another player or a couple of more players."

That could come from the class of 2011 – Bria Smith, a 5'10 combo guard from Massapequa, N.Y., signed an LOI with Virginia and then reopened her recruitment after Coach Debbie Ryan resigned and would have to be released by the Cavaliers; and Betnijah Laney, a 6'0 wing from Clayton, Del., who has not signed yet – or the juco ranks, where Tennessee dipped in 2006 to get guards Shannon Bobbitt and Alberta Auguste, both starters on the 2008 national title team. The regular signing period - the early one was last November - begins next week and lasts for a month.

"We'll just say everything is open right now, but we will have more players," Summitt said.

The intention of the Lady Vols has been to move rising sophomore Meighan Simmons off the ball to her natural wing position and also allow rising senior Shekinna Stricklen to roam, because she can play multiple positions, including point guard when needed.

Incoming freshman Ariel Massengale, a 5'6 guard from Bolingbrook, Ill., and McDonald's and WBCA All-American, is expected to be the starting point.

"I've pretty much said Ariel is my starting point guard when she gets here," Summitt said. "Let's hope she's healthy when she gets here. I've watched her play and I just think she is a real special guard."

VIDEO COVERAGE: The Lady Vols did some court work Wednesday with the coaches for the first time since the Elite Eight loss to Notre Dame. Pat Summitt talks about that session:

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