In the face of a worldwide pandemic, it’s easy to feel helpless.
For an athlete like freshman guard Lavender Briggs, whose commanding presence on the court confines the game to the palm of her hand, this lack of control is a foreign feeling.
“It sucks because life’s just put on hold right now and you can’t do anything about it,” Lavender said.
The COVID-19 outbreak snagged the last few games of her first season at UF from her grasp, as Lavender led the Gators to qualify for postseason play for the first time in coach Cam Newbauer’s tenure.
“It’s unfortunate, what happened,” Lavender said. “I think we really would’ve done good in postseason play because at the end of the season we got better as a team collectively.”
As a freshman, Lavender was Florida’s leading scorer, averaging 15 points per game. She notched double-digit tallies in 26 of 29 games played. The Provo, Utah, native was the first freshman to lead the SEC in minutes on the hardwood in 20 years with 34.7 per game. When she was on the floor — which was more often than not — Lavender was in control.
Now, she doesn’t even have access to a hoop, much less the kind of autonomy she had over her training while in Gainesville.
“I was just at school and taking for granted that I could workout everyday and go to the gym whenever I wanted to and lift weights,” Lavender said. “But now, I can’t.”
Local parks have resorted to removing hoops from their backboards to discourage people from going out and playing pick up basketball. But Lavender doesn’t have a hoop at home. Coronavirus has rendered the former SEC Freshman of the Week hoop-less indefinitely.
During quarantine, Lavender continues to work on her game by running, jumping rope, working on her ball handling skills and watching tape from last season. This is how she tries to maintain control over her basketball career.
When it came time for Lavender to decide where she wanted to play college ball, she assumed her rightful place in the driver’s seat. While basketball is sacred in the Briggs household, this was Lavender’s decision and Lavender’s decision alone. The game that started as friendly sibling competition now gave her the power to attend any Power Five school in the country.
So, much like she does on the court, Lavender put herself in the best position to succeed and went after what she wanted.
“I knew I didn’t want to stay in Utah,” Lavender said. “I talked to schools from every single conference…so when it came time for me to make my decision, I just chose the best fit for me.”
From playing up a couple years under her mom June Briggs’s tutelage to AAU ball to dropping 53 points on her way to a Utah state record for scoring by a high school girl, Lavender was a highly coveted recruit.
So aside from that eminent “feeling” student athletes cite when explaining why they decided to commit to their respective schools, why would a five-star recruit sign the dotted line to play for a team with an 8-23 (3-13 SEC) record?
Because she wanted to be the catalyst for a storied program turnaround.
“When you’re building a program, you want players that have that drive to do something greater than themselves. And she had that presence about her to really want to be great…she wanted to make an impact on the program,” Newbauer said.
Once on campus, Lavender swiftly shouldered the responsibilities of a day-one starter and a leader on the Gators squad. She recorded seven double-doubles last season, three of which came in the first seven games of her collegiate career, and posted 435 total points her freshman year (fifth-most by a freshman in school history).
That performance made an impact on the hardwood and the recruiting trail.
“The recruits that we’re involved with, they want to play with good players,” Newbauer said. “Her personality and her skill set provide for the opportunity for kids that want to play with her because of who she is and what she’s about and how she carries herself.”
Even while navigating the uncharted, choppy waters of COVID-19 and the future of her basketball career, Lavender continues to carry herself in such a way. Since there are no gyms to shoot around in, she pours over hours of tape to work on the mental aspect of her game — analyzing, criticizing and formulating a plan with her coaches on how to improve moving forward.
Despite how precarious the future looks now, one thing is certain: this basketball hiatus will only amplify Lavender’s love and appreciation for the sport.
“You never know what you have until it’s gone,” Lavender said. “Even though it was hard, it was worth it and just makes me want to go back even more (and) it makes me want to work harder when I go back.”