Andraya Carter's statement on leaving the Lady Vols
As a child, I always had one dream: to be recruited by Pat Summitt and be a Lady Vol basketball player. Wearing an orange, white and accent blue jersey with the one and only TENNESSEE across the front has been an honor and a privilege that I will cherish forever.
I want to thank everyone who helped along the way, from family, friends, coaches, trainers, teammates and the countless individuals who provided their support. These past four years, I have grown up and learned so much about life while making incredible memories. I've made a few mistakes along the way, but I've definitely learned from them, and the transformation from who I was in 2012 to who I am today is one that I am proud of.
When it comes to basketball, pain and performance have always gone hand in hand for me. Research shows there is a significant difference between performance pain and injury pain, but to me it was all the same. During the past four years, I have played through everything from bumps and bruises to torn ligaments and broken bones (a broken finger vs. Ohio State this season).
On the court, I did my best to represent my family, and most of all my superhero, Nana--Gloria Delores Carter--by the way I played. I may not have always made the right decisions or the right plays at the right time, but my heart, hustle and effort were always there. I hope I made everyone, especially my Nana, proud of me during my time in a Lady Vol uniform.
Being a basketball player at the University of Tennessee was a dream come true. Even during the hard days, losses and adversities, I always remembered how lucky I was to be on the court as a part of the historic Lady Vol basketball program. After loving the game so much for so long, it is hard to imagine forgoing an opportunity to play for one more year. Yet, the past four years have taken a toll on my body that I can no longer ignore. The injuries that I once effortlessly pushed aside and played through are beginning to catch up to me and have long-term effects.
After talking with my family, doctors, surgeons and coaches, I have decided that it is in my best interest to forgo my fifth year of eligibility and focus on letting my body heal and recover.
As I mentioned, injuries were something that I dealt with pretty easily during the past four years. However, no matter how strong willed or strong minded a person is, the body starts to speak for itself.
I am thankful for the team of doctors and athletic trainers that helped me stay as strong as possible for as long as I could. From multiple surgeries to countless rehab sessions and extra hours of recovery time, we were always trying to stay one step ahead of my problems and pain.
This past year was by far the most difficult for me physically. When the season ended, the doctors told me they would continue to do a string of medical evaluations to try and figure out how to manage the worsening pain that they predicted I would have to deal with during my fifth year. We discussed only practicing twice a week or only playing in games, but anyone who knows me knows those options were unacceptable to me. If I was going to continue to play basketball, I wanted to practice, condition, lift weights, be with my teammates and be able to work as hard as I could to get better every single day.
Yet, in addition to all of those things, I wanted to go to bed at night and wake up the next morning without pain. I wanted to be able to sit down and stand up like a healthy 22-year-old should, and, even more so, I wanted to be able to walk and run without trouble as I continue to get older.
Ultimately, as the summer has come to an end, the realization that there is not a way for me to reach my full potential on the court while remaining healthy has set in. While this was not an easy decision to reach, I am confident that it is time to let go.
In the modified words from a Kobe Bryant tribute,
'You gave a seven-year-old girl her Lady Vol dream
And I'll always love you for it.
But I can't love you obsessively for much longer.
This season was all I had left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it's time to say goodbye.'
Letting go of the game doesn't mean forgetting everything it gave me. The past four years I spent as a Lady Vol were filled with many amazing memories, such as sitting next toMeighan Simmons waiting for my name to be called in the starting lineup for the first time, beating Stanford at home, the comeback wins in the 2014 SEC Tournament and overtime wins at Kentucky and Florida . . . the list only continues! And I also remember smaller moments like jumping up and bumping Cierra Burdick before games; taking a charge and Ariel Massengale, Isabelle Harrison and Cierra standing over me and picking me up; and Ariel running and jumping on me when we beat Gonzaga after being down 17 in the second half. I recall smothering a point guard on a sideline trap with Jordan Reynolds, throwing the ball all the way down the court to Bashaara Graves, and all the times yelling in excitement after a big play or celebrating on the bench. These memories will be with me forever.
When I think of them, all the emotions of those moments rush back, and I remember how much I loved my time on the court as a Lady Vol. Though it wasn't all sunshine all the time (from rough workouts, terrible practices and disappointing games), I am really happy to say that when I look back, I remember the good times the most. I remember the fun, the encouragement, the excitement, the nerves, the smiles, the high fives and the hugs way more than anything else. I will always have a special place in my heart for those memories and all of my teammates for helping me create them.
I am also thankful for the Lady Vol coaching staff. As most people already know, I was a part of the last class to ever sign with Pat Summitt. For me, Bashaara Graves and Jasmine Jones, the Lady Vol program that we entered as freshmen was different than the one that we committed to play for in high school. A lot of players pull out of their commitment when there is a coaching change--especially when such a legendary coach, like Pat Summitt, is the one who is stepping down. As I said before, being a Lady Vol was always my dream, and I wanted to be in Knoxville no matter what. So, sticking with the commitment I made my sophomore year in high school to play at Tennessee was not a difficult decision for me to make when Pat passed the whistle to Holly.
To be a part of the first four years of a coach's career is very unique. Looking back it was special to see Holly Warlick grow into her position and role as a head coach as we all grew into our positions and roles as players. My relationship with Holly was like anyone would imagine a relationship would be with a family member. You love each other, even in those moments that you don't like each other. She's the first one you call when you need someone. She has always picked up the phone for us; she always has the office door open. Holly challenged me, pushed me, supported and encouraged me, and I am very appreciative of all that she invested in me.
And I am thankful for my other coaches as well. Dean Lockwood, Jolette Law and Kyra Elzy were all there for me in their own special ways the past four years. They are all so different, but I knew exactly who I needed to talk to for each situation in which I found myself stuck. They wanted to help me grow as a player, but they were also there to help me grow as a person as well. I will forever be indebted to them for their love, care and support these four years. The relationships I have made with my coaches and the rest of the support staff at the University of Tennessee are ones I will always be thankful for.
When I first made the decision to forgo my fifth year of eligibility, I felt overwhelmed and nervous about what my future would hold. However, as new opportunities started to arise and doors started to open for me, I have grown to be very excited for this next stage. These last few weeks after the passing of Coach Summitt have reinforced how special it is to be a part of this Lady Vol family.
A huge group of former players went to Holly's house the day after the celebration of Pat's life, and there were so many Lady Vols sharing stories and reminiscing. It was very clear that the bond and connections never end, and that is what it truly means to be a Lady Vol. Everyone goes separate ways, but no matter where they go or what they're doing when they leave Tennessee, they always have their teammates and their Lady Vol family to come back to. Words can't express how thankful I am to have been a Lady Vol basketball player. Everything that Pat and former players said is true: wearing the 'traffic cone' orange and baby blue comes with a lot of high standards and expectations, but it is all worth it in the end because what you take with you is a sense of pride, family, love and support that lasts much longer than your four years in uniform.
Although this past year was my last season in a Lady Vol uniform it will not be my final year in Knoxville. I have one year of grad school to finish, and I'll be working at the University of Tennessee's Thornton Athletics Student Life Center as a Young Professional. The staff at Thornton is the main reason I was able do the things I wanted to off the court, from getting my undergraduate degree early to linking up with the Tennessee School for the Deaf. They are the catalyst for any student-athlete who wants to get involved in the community, develop professionally and succeed academically, and I am excited for the opportunity to learn more about that aspect of college athletics.
I am also excited to further my relationship with the staff and students at the Tennessee School for the Deaf this coming year. The bond that I made with the TSD students and lessons we learned together extend far beyond the basketball court. I hope to share, learn and experience even more with them this year.
Finally, I have also committed to working with VFL Films as a color analyst and commentator for some of the broadcasts of Lady Vol games on SEC Network+. And, of course, I'll try my best to be at most games, no matter if it's on the sidelines working or watching from the stands.
My time as a player has come to an end, but I don't plan on ending my time involved with the game just yet. I love it too much to completely let go.
I want to thank the fans for all of the support you've given the team and me. Please continue to be supportive; be positive. We saw the support of our true fans when things got tough this past year, and I want you all to stick with it. Every player that wears that Lady Vol jersey knows the expectations and wants to achieve them, trust me. Every player that comes here is here to get better and here to win, and it can't happen without your unconditional support. The legacy and tradition that Pat Summitt and Holly Warlick have built live on, and the fans are a critical part of that.
I will forever have a place in my heart for everyone surrounding the program and all of Lady Vol Nation. Thank you, everyone, for your support and understanding as I put down the basketball and move to the next phase of my life with my head held high. I don't take for granted the opportunities provided by my time as a Lady Vol. I know I can look back and say that I gave my all for Tennessee.