"I tried to make the best decision for me looking at the long run and trying to pursue my goals of being a doctor while maintaining my health," Lauren Avant said in a phone interview with Inside Tennessee. "I still love the program. I keep in touch with my teammates so I still feel a part of the team, and everyone is supportive."
When the spring semester ended, Avant returned to Memphis to consider her options – the standout student was a junior in terms of credit hours when she left Knoxville because of Advanced Placement credits that she had earned in high school at the prestigious Lausanne prep school – and she decided to enroll at Rhodes College, a private school that competes in Division III in her hometown.
Since Avant transferred to a smaller division instead of Division I, she doesn't have to sit out an NCAA transfer year and after getting medical clearance – she has sustained concussions in the past, among other issues – she can suit up this fall for Rhodes.
"Yes ma'am, if my health permits," Avant said. "I visited a neurologist and I am still seeing my physician about my ankle."
Avant will major in biology on a pre-med track with a minor in psychology. The intense focus on academics combined with the physical pain from a litany of injuries – she endured a serious shoulder injury in a car wreck prior to her arrival at Tennessee that took her off the court for most of her senior year of high school and then had serious hand and ankle injuries while at Tennessee – led her to the decision to try to play basketball at a smaller school and commit more time to her medical ambitions to strike a better balance between the two.
"Just the style of play and the physical level (is different at DIII)," Avant said. "I came in with a bunch of injuries and they progressively got worse instead of better. I took this summer off to heal my body and focus on school.
"I sat in at different physicians' offices and therapy offices just to get experience for my career, and I think those were really beneficial."
It was still a tough decision for Avant because she had wanted to attend Tennessee since she was a youngster and committed to the Lady Vols when she was 15 and never wavered on her decision. It was an emotional adjustment to make after she returned home.
"It was hard but just physically I am feeling way better," Avant said. "If I would have gone in with a clean slate health-wise it would be a totally different picture I am sure, but I have just been trying to battle through some injuries.
"It hurt more and more and where it got painful to even walk every day. I had to start looking long-term instead of being a kid and thinking immediate gratification. It was a great experience. I don't regret any part of it all. It was a part of my life and I will take it in stride and learn from it."
Avant has been able to move back home with her mother, Dana Avant, since she is attending college in her hometown. Both Avants expressed shock and concern at the news this week that Pat Summitt has been diagnosed with early onset dementia.
"It caught me completely off guard," Lauren Avant. "That was one of the last things I expected I guess because she is such a hard-working woman, and she was on top of everything last year. She didn't show any signs that were obvious to the team. I felt bad for her but I know she is a strong woman, and she will definitely persevere."
Avant remains friends with her former teammates and made contact with them this week. She said the players were handling the news well.
"Everyone still sees Coach Summitt as the same person they saw before," Avant said. "Everyone knows they're going to be on top of their game to try and reduce the stress on her, to try to help her out. They are not really fazed."
Dana Avant made contact with Inside Tennessee the day the news was announced to express her support for Summitt. Dana Avant is a medical professional who earned her nursing degree at Tennessee and is a lifelong fan of the Lady Vols.
"My heart just went out to her," Dana Avant said. "I thought about what she has done for women's basketball and how this is going to be a struggle for her because Coach Pat is someone that has always been in control of everything and now she has to trust in her faith that things are going to work itself out.
"She will be there for her son and her family, and she still wants to come in and do the job that she's done for 37 years. She will have the determination and passion to fight this. That is what I thought about. My heart goes out to her family and the players as well."
Dana Avant said she intended to check the schedule and make plans to attend some games this upcoming season, even though Lauren, who played one year at Tennessee and battled several injuries, is no longer in Knoxville.
"I have always been and will always be a Tennessee fan," Dana Avant said. "My blood is orange and white."
Avant also was at peace with her daughter's decision to leave Tennessee.
"She said, ‘Mom, I have no regrets,' and that is all I can ask," Dana Avant said.
Lauren Avant will be busy with her pre-med curriculum and hopefully her own basketball season, but she remains close to the Tennessee program and will pull for the Lady Vols.
"For sure, of course," Avant said. "Nothing has changed at all."