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Aubrey Griffin staying confident after missing all of last season

A combination of ankle, leg and back injuries held Griffin out last year before she underwent a discectomy in January.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

For all UConn’s injury problems during the 2021-22 season, nobody had it worse than Aubrey Griffin.

During the preseason, she dealt with a high ankle sprain, a leg injury, and back problems that lingered into the first few weeks of the regular season. In early December, Geno Auriemma said Griffin would play a few minutes across two games in a weekend but then downgraded her to out the next day. Later that month, she warmed up ahead of the Georgia Tech and UCLA games but didn’t end up playing.

Before UConn’s matchup with Louisville, Griffin tried to push through the pain for a couple days in practice but didn’t respond well. At that point, the team shut her down and the outlook turned grim.

“It doesn’t look good right now,” Auriemma said at the time.

In January, Griffin’s season officially came to an end when she underwent back surgery — a discectomy, to be specific — to repair a disc injury. The operation forced her to be away from the team during the first month of her recovery, though she returned to campus for the NCAA Tournament.

It was a long, drawn-out process for Griffin, especially with those moments of hope in the first half of the season where it looked like she might have a chance to play only to get the rug pulled out from under her.

“It was really tough because I obviously wanted to play and I wanted to be there with my team and I wanted to be able to practice and stuff,” she said. “It was definitely hard just not being able to do anything.”

But with the benefit of hindsight, Griffin can now admit that deep down, she knew something was seriously wrong all the way back in October.

“Probably preseason last year,” she said about when she knew she might be sidelined for a significant amount of time. “I had a lot of ups and downs where I couldn’t play without pain in my back.”

That’s all in the past now, though. Griffin is five months removed from surgery and is slowly adding more and more to her rehab routine. While she didn’t want to put a timeline on when she’ll finally be fully cleared from the operation, Griffin expects to receive good news in the near future.

“I should be ready soon to be full,” she said. “I do a lot of glute work with the bands, and [exercises] like clams right now. I’m doing a lot of jumping. Just starting to get back my strength and stuff.”

In a way, it helps that this isn’t Griffin’s first major injury. As a sophomore in high school, she tore her ACL and missed an entire season. Griffin knows to expect a long, difficult recovery and most importantly, knows how to get through it.

“I kind of knew how it was gonna go and what I needed to do to keep on going,” she said. “What got me through is just staying confident, just doing what I can control because I can’t show my injury. So just being able to continue doing rehab and everything I can to get back on the court.”

Back surgery is a notoriously difficult recovery for anyone — let alone an elite Division I athlete and especially a player like Griffin whose calling card is her athleticism. But Griffin likes her chances.

“It’s been tough but I’ll be back this season,” she declared.

The Griffins’ big night

Thursday should be an exciting night in the Griffin household. The NBA Draft begins at 8 p.m. ET and Griffin’s younger brother, AJ, is expected to be a lottery pick. Mock drafts have him going somewhere between eighth and 13th overall with the most outlets projecting the hometown New York Knicks to take him at No. 11.

Whatever happens, Aubrey will be live at the Barclays Center to see it all unfold.

“Yeah, I’ll be there for my little brother,” she said, “he’s really excited and I’m just happy I get to be there and support him.”