Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Summitt rewards assistant coaches with cars
Lady Vols celebrate their seventh national championship
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had a big surprise for her three assistant coaches at the Lady Vols’ victory celebration Wednesday.
Holly Warlick and Nikki Caldwell, both former players, and fellow assistant Dean Lockwood were each presented a Mercedes SLK 280 roadster by a local dealership.
The three looked stunned and the players cheered in excitement and ran to the cars that were driven inside the city’s convention center, used for the event because Thompson-Boling Arena is undergoing renovations.
“Maybe Dean can find a woman,” Summitt said after the presentation, and Lockwood, a former men’s coach, stood up and shook the keys to his new ride at the screaming crowd.
On Tuesday night in Cleveland, Tennessee beat Rutgers 59-46 for its seventh national title and first since the Lady Vols won three straight from 1996-98.
“How are the greatest basketball fans in the country?” Summitt asked the big crowd of people mostly wearing orange and many already donning championship T-shirts. “I just want to thank you for really setting the standard. You have been awesome.”
“Obviously, I’m extremely proud to be your coach and coach of the team that brought home the 2007 national championship!”
The fans in attendance included football coach Phillip Fulmer and men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl. They had planned to attend the game Tuesday night but couldn’t take off from the airport because of a bad storm.
T-shirts and other championship memorabilia have already gone on sale in Knoxville. The school is issuing a season highlights DVD for the first time.
Wednesday was declared a special day for the Lady Vols by Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam and Knox County mayor Mike Ragsdale.
After waiting so long to win another crown, Summitt let loose a little and even took a jab at arch-nemesis Connecticut. She thanked Tennessee president John Petersen for his support, particularly wearing the same orange socks to all the NCAA tournament games. Petersen was provost at UConn before being hired to oversee the statewide university system
“The best decision he ever made was to get out of Connecticut!” Summitt said. And the fans roared some more.
The Lady Vols brought the trophy with them, and women’s athletic director Joan Cronan said there will be room in a large glass case outside Summitt’s office in the arena that already holds the other six.
“We have a spot,” Cronan said before the ceremony. “We’ve been waiting for it.”
Summitt called out each player and described how important each was to the title run.
Candace Parker, who had 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists Tuesday night and was selected the Most Outstanding Player, becoming the fifth Lady Vol to be so honored. She follows Chamique Holdsclaw (1998, 1997), Michelle Marciniak (1996), Bridgette Gordon (1989) and Tonya Edwards (1987).
As the Lady Vols were making their run through the NCAA tournament, Summitt said she believed this team had the ingredients to win a national championship that previous teams had been missing. First on the list was a go-to player like the 6-foot-4 Parker, who is so versatile she’s listed as a forward, guard and center in the media guide.
Next, Summitt added speed on the perimeter mainly with the signing of junior college point guard Shannon Bobbitt, at 5-foot-2 the smallest player ever at Tennessee. Bobbitt’s arrival meant Alexis Hornbuckle could go back to shooting guard and continue to bring energy defensively.
Senior Sidney Spencer brought a shooting touch she’s improved on every year. Center Nicky Anosike became obsessed with rebounding and was often used to defend an opponent’s best perimeter player.
The title game wasn’t Parker’s best outing. Every player working together helped the Lady Vols win.
Summitt thanked Hornbuckle and Anosike for their leadership.
Bobbitt hit a 3 to score the first points in the national championship game, and Spencer followed with a jumper to get Tennessee rolling. Bobbitt finished with 13 points, Spencer had 11 and reserve Alberta Auguste, another junior college transfer, added 10.
When Bobbitt let loose her first shot, Summitt said, “I was like ’Noooo! Good shot Shannon!”’
Anosike had a career-high 16 rebounds, 10 on offense. Tennessee chancellor Loren Crabtree remarked about how Anosike was majoring in three subjects and has added a fourth — rebounding.
Spencer, Dominique Redding and former manager Elizabeth Curry are the only seniors.
“What a way to go out — on top,” Spencer told the crowd.
Summitt has shown no signs of letting up in her 33rd year with the Lady Vols.
She took the team to its first Final Four in 1977 when it was in the AIAW and won the school’s first title in 1987. Since the three-peat from 1996-98, the Lady Vols went to six Final Fours and also reached the finals in 2000, 2003 and 2004, each time losing to Connecticut.
Summitt has four incoming freshmen to look forward to next season when Tennessee goes for championship No. 8: 6-foot guard Angie Bjorklund of Spokane, Wash.; 6-4 forward Vicki Baugh of Sacramento, Calif.; 6-6 center Kelley Cain of Atlanta; and 5-10 guard Sydney Smallbone of South Bend, Ind.
During the ceremony, Summitt sat next to her son, Tyler, who turned 16 last fall.
“Thank you for being great fans,” Tyler Summitt told the crowd. “We’ll see you next year in Tampa!”
Quickly, Summitt took back the microphone for a last word: “Even my son puts pressure on me.”
But everybody on Rocky Top is looking forward to the next championship.