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Beyond Basketball: Lauren Gross

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Ask anyone about Southern Miss redshirt sophomore Lauren Gross and they’ll all tell you the same thing, “she’s authentic.”

“That is something that just means so much to me,” Gross said of the trait. “I know I can’t get you to be real with me, if I’m not real with you. I want people to know that I mean what I say and I just want to be real with people and I want people to know that.

“When people hear my name or remember me, I want them to know that I was authentic and I was passionate about what I did and who I was with and the people I’m around.”

Her authenticity is a trait that the Southaven, Miss. native learned from her Pop as a child and one that she has carried with her throughout her life.

Gross describes her grandfather as one of the most selfless and generous people she’s ever met, and how the way he loves others has directly impacted her desire to make a difference in the lives of not only her teammates, but also the community around her.

“Lauren is one of the most special individuals that I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach,” head coach Joye Lee-McNelis said of Gross. “Lauren is very authentic every single day. She is very transparent. She is very real.

“She is someone that is going to handle things in a very mature way. She isn’t going to tear anyone down, but she finds different ways to lift people up in tough times. Her teammates look to her for guidance.”

But the guidance that Gross provides her teammates didn’t come without struggle.

“It was definitely the most challenging basketball season I’ve ever had in my life,” Gross said.

She appeared in just 10 of the Lady Eagles 19 games this season, missing time due to lung issues stemming from COVID-19 and a knee injury, but embraced stepping into a leadership role despite things not going the way she had hoped on the court.

“I think I learned to sacrifice more this year than anything. I let a lot of circumstances kind of get to me as much as I did try to push through. It definitely turned into putting my team before myself, like an encourager type role, because I knew I wasn’t crucial on the court this year just because of the things that happened.”

Through the struggles that the season brought, Gross leaned into her faith and the sense of community that she has found from her teammates and Fellowship of Christian Athletes here at Southern Miss to love and her serve her team.

“The way my faith is, it drives everything that I do everything,” Gross added. “The biggest part of that is just ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love each other, serve one another. I’ve realized this year that sometimes that can be hard, but it’s the most rewarding thing you can do.

“I would do anything for my teammates. I know they’re my purpose. They’re why I’m here. People are the most important thing and so each time I get an opportunity to spend time with my teammates, I want to take advantage of that just to love them and just be with them. Because you just never know how short life is and you just want to be authentic and love people when you can.”

Spend any time around the Lady Eagle basketball program, and it’s easy to see Gross live that out each day that she spends around her teammates.

“She’s like a sister to me,” teammate Destiny Smith said. “I love her dearly. She’s always my go-to. She’s a leader for our team and she’s played a big part, not only in my life, but also for the team. I’m just really thankful for her and the impact she’s made in my life.”

Gross credits much of her development as a team leader to FCA Campus Director Krista Welford, who has been another example to Gross of how to love and be authentic to the people who are around her.

“Lauren is dedicated and hungry for the Lord in a similar fashion as she is to win, play and develop on the court,” Welford said of Gross. “I love that she takes the same tenacity in her walk with Christ as she does on the floor.

“It is a complete honor and joy to serve her and walk alongside her. She is as authentic as they come. When things in her life are going great and when things in her life are falling apart – when she can’t play because she has COVID, or she’s hurt, she’s consistent. She’s authentic and she’s not going to be fake. She is who she is and I appreciate that so much about her.”

Gross hopes to combine her love for basketball and people once her playing days are over to continue to bring people together through sports.

“I think one of the biggest things that I love about basketball is the fact that I’m able to love people and have friends that I wouldn’t have made otherwise. Being able to come together over basketball is amazing. I want to do that whether it be rec sports, AAU, working in FCA, something like that, something where I can bring people together through sports. That is my passion.”

With three years of eligibility left, Gross aims to keep building on the relationship she’s formed with her teammates and others here at Southern Miss, while staying true to who she is.

“I want to be someone you can depend on when you need someone to depend on,” Gross said. “I think I take pride in that.

“It goes back to authenticity. You’re always going to get the same Lauren. I mean, that’s what I hope, that’s what I pray for every day. I want to be someone who’s going to love you no matter what. No matter what you do. I know I’m not perfect. I know I have my issues, but that’s the goal. I want to be someone who’s going to love unconditionally and be someone you can depend on.”