Lauren Holiday

UCLA women's basketball player Lauren Holiday, who has sustained four concussions, has had to deal with numerous setbacks as a result of the injuries. (Christina House / For The Times / February 19, 2014)

Lauren Holiday sits pensively, hands clasped in her lap, a UCLA basketball practice jersey folded around her.

Rocking slightly, she leans forward in her chair as she struggles to remember the incidents that changed her life.

She had been asked about the series of head injuries she has endured in her two seasons as a college basketball player: How many were there? When did they happen? And how?

"To be honest, I don't really remember," she says quietly from time to time. And then: "My memory is really bad now because of them."

Holiday thinks she has suffered at least six head injuries. Her coach and a member of the UCLA sports information staff, sitting nearby, help fill in some of the blanks.

She sustained her two most recent concussions late last year, including a season-ending injury against crosstown rival USC in December. Knocked off balance by a screen, she was kneed in the head by an opposing player as she fell toward the floor.

Almost immediately, Holiday says, she saw a flash of red lights and knew it was bad. She had seen those lights for the first time about 13 months earlier, the result of another collision.

After that, she had persevered through a long, hard journey back to competition. Yet there she was once more, a crumpled heap on the floor.

She knew right away she was in for a setback, but didn't realize that she once again would be sidelined indefinitely.

Holiday's college career is an embodiment of statistics that don't get much publicity. Sports concussions and their damaging effects have been in the news in recent years, but often the attention has been focused on football. Their impact in women's sports hasn't generated nearly as many headlines.

Women who play basketball and soccer at the high school and college levels are far more likely to sustain a concussion than their male counterparts, according to a 2013 study by the American Academy of Neurology. In high school basketball, they are more than five times as likely — .60 in 1,000 games compared to .11 for males. In college, the ratio is nearly two to one.

Studies have also shown that each concussion increases the risk of another, and multiple injuries increase the risk of prolonged symptoms.

Holiday, 20, is an example of that, too.


Holiday is a sleek-looking athlete, sinewy strong at 5 feet 8, but there is little finesse to her game. She could score some, but she was best known for hustle, grit and in-your-face defense.

She often drew the assignment of covering the opposing team's top scorer, or maybe a point guard who was driving the Bruins batty.

No challenge was too great. Her family prepared her for that.

Holiday's mother, Toya, was her coach at Valley Village Campbell Hall High, where younger brother Aaron is a standout point guard. Two older brothers, Justin and Jrue, are professional basketball players. Justin played at the University of Washington and now competes in Europe; Jrue played for UCLA and is now with the New Orleans Pelicans of the NBA.

Two-on-two games with her brothers left her no choice but to play tough.

"That's her biggest strength," UCLA Coach Cori Close says, "and also, in this case, her biggest weakness."