December 5, 2021
Florida’s Lavender Briggs chronicles her comeback from a season-ending injury
'[I] learned how to lead in a different way ... It helps this year for sure'
Lavender Briggs knew something was wrong. She had been nursing a nagging foot injury for a while.
Something didn’t feel quite right.
But she wasn’t prepared for the worst.
“I knew there was something wrong when we started SEC play,” the University of Florida star guard said of her foot last spring. “I could feel it running up and down the court, but I didn’t think it would be that serious. I never expected it to be season-ending.”
But that’s exactly what it was.
It was announced in early February that she would miss the remainder of the 2020-21 season—the Gators’ four remaining regular-season games and the postseason. Bad timing for sure as Briggs was in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history. Averaging 19.4 points per game, Briggs finished the season with the fourth-highest points per game average ever by a Gator.
It was a blow to the then-sophomore, a former five-star signee from Provo, Utah, and SEC-All Freshman, honoree. Per Florida Athletics, before the injury, Briggs had missed just one game since arriving at Florida, starting 47 of the Gators’ 48 games over that period.
“I was sick to my stomach when I got called upstairs and it was all the coaches and the athletic trainer and me,” the 20-year-old Briggs recalls. “I was told the results of the MRI and I was not going to be able to continue the rest of the season.
“It was very upsetting. I started crying. I was just upset because we had goals we wanted to accomplish, and I just felt like I was letting the team down even though it was out of my control.”
Without Briggs, the Gators finished the season 12-14 (3-11 in the SEC), landing in 12th place in the conference. They were invited to the 2021 Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT), and after defeating Charlotte in the first round, they were eliminated by Villanova in the second round.
Watching from the sidelines, Briggs grew to understand the game from a different perspective and now views her absence—and the mental growth that followed—as one of her proudest accomplishments last season.
“After I got injured, how I stepped up and really focused on the team and learned how to lead in a different way than being on the court was pretty big for me. It helps this year for sure.”
“Lav is a competitor. She has a desire to be the best version of herself and a work ethic that will get her there,” said Gators interim head coach Kelly Rae Finley. “She is determined to improve in ways that help both her and our team.
“She met last year’s physical obstacle with a relentless mindset to find solutions, and it is paying off in her leadership and ability to see the game from a different perspective.”
Currently, the Gators are 6-3 on the season. Briggs was chosen by SEC coaches as a preseason All-SEC first-team pick. Despite an upset loss to George Mason this week that ended the Gators’ five-game win streak, the team and its star guard are trending upward after a tough spring, offseason and summer that saw the unexpected resignation of fourth-year head coach Cameron Newbauer. Newbauer resigned in July after allegations of abuse from former players.
Finley, an assistant under Newbauer, saw her appointment to interim head coach met with dismay by many observers. During a media availability at the start of the season, Finley dismissed any ideas that she helped enable Newbauer. “I don’t believe I would be here if that were the case,” she said at the time.
Briggs supported Finley during the media availability as well.
“I don’t think if she let any of us down, we would be here,” Briggs said then. “I had the opportunity to leave and I chose to stay because we see something in Kelly that is beautiful. She’s strong and hardworking and we love her as a coach and even more as a person. She didn’t let anybody down. She’s here to help us become the best we can be.”
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Briggs talked with The Next about her new perspective on basketball, what she’s learned since her injury, the coaching controversy, her hopes for this Gators team and more.
How has your view of the game been affected by injuries?
“I think it definitely helped me see the game from a different perspective. When I was sitting out all those games and watching my team play, I definitely saw it from a coaches’ perspective and that helped me see different aspects of defense and offense that I would miss by being on the court.”
What can only Lavender Briggs bring to this Gators team?
“Versatility; being able to help the team whenever we need stops or rebounds on defense and always being an option on offense. I think that helps a lot. Being able to do whatever is called of you.”
What hopes and dreams do you have individually and for your team for this season?
“My goals for this season are to improve every game and to do better than I finished last season. I haven’t played for eight months and I have to find my feel again and I’ll be good.
“As far as the team, simply do better than we did last year. I feel like we have a better team and we have more veterans, people who have played more minutes together. If we can accomplish our goal of going to the tournament and making a run in the tourney and finishing higher than we finished last year in SEC, I think that will be a success.”
How do you prepare for a game? Do you have any pre-game rituals?
“I just listen to music and try to relax. I don’t try to be too serious because that’s not who I am as a person. I try to be loose and still have fun and think about what I need to do on the court, on defense and visualize what I need to do.”
“On my playlist is truly whatever I feel like that day. Some days I like old rockers like Jadakiss. If I’m not feeling rap, I’ll go to a more calm playlist like alternative music—The Fray, Daughtry, Nickelback—whatever my mood is that day.”
You were recovering from injury, then the Newbauer abuse allegations came out. How did you or are you handling this?
“It was something serious and it still is present right now. It seems to keep coming back up. We just need to keep the bigger picture in mind. All of our goals as a team, my personal goals, focusing on basketball really helps to keep that on the sidelines for me and for the team as well. If we focus on what we want to accomplish this season and who we are accomplishing it with as a team, then it sidelines the whole situation that occurred.”
What has basketball taught you that carries over into other areas of your life?
“Hard work and perseverance for sure. If you work hard [and] put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything, no matter what the task is.”
What is one thing you want fans to know about you?
“I am an honest, caring, very hardworking person.”
What motto or mantra do you live by as an athlete?
“I just really want to get better every single day. If I’m not getting better, someone else is.”