Florida graduate Simone Westbrook granted rare seventh year of eligibility

Simone Westbrook is going to be able to play college basketball again after the NCAA granted her a rare seventh year of eligibility.

The former Florida player is believed to be one of the first in women's basketball to get a seventh year, according to the NCAA.

``Everyone was holding their breath,'' Westbrook said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. ``It's definitely the exhale that everyone has been waiting for. I'm grateful for the opportunity. I didn't realize at the beginning of all of this how much was involved. Hearing those words that you got your seventh year is an indescribable feeling.''

It's been a long, drawn-out process for Westbrook, who hasn't played since 2016 after tearing a knee ligament in August that year. She was finally healthy enough to play this past season, but the NCAA originally didn't grant her a sixth year of eligibility. Florida appealed in January, and the NCAA reconsidered its decision and allowed her to play.

``It was a rollercoaster of emotions,'' she said. ``You cling to the little amount of hope you get. You keep going and fighting and never took no for an answer.''

The Florida graduate discussed with the new Gators coaching staff, which came in before the 2018 season, that she was going to transfer if granted another year of eligibility. By the time the appeal came through, it was too late for her to transfer and play immediately.

After the season ended, the Gators put together another appeal to get the 5-foot-8 guard a seventh year and it was finally approved.

Westbrook received the good news Thursday morning from her attorney Jason Setchen, who worked with Florida to get the appeal done.

``It's exciting, you know you never want to come to that realization that you might be done with basketball,'' the 24-year-old said. ``You want to play as much as you can.''

Westbrook said that she had a few schools in mind where she wanted to play next year.

``Now that we got this waiver we'll explore all options,'' Westbrook said. ``Hopefully, this will open the door for us to communicate with coaches and schools on a more professional level.''

Westbrook wasn't sure how rare her case was to get a seventh year to play until she started doing research.

``The more research I did, the more I came up with nothing,'' she said. ``That's when I realized this is a situation that doesn't happen ever. I wish I had someone to google when I was going through all this. Hopefully, if a player has to go through this situation again, they'll have more knowledge with the facts and it won't be as long a process for them.''