Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Summitt receives honorary doctorate degree

Dolly Parton isn't the only famous East Tennessee woman getting a Doctorate this year; Pat Summitt is now "Dr. Pat" after getting her honorary Doctorate from the U.S. Sports Academy.

Here is the University of Tennessee's release on the honor:

University of Tennessee Lady Vol Basketball Head Coach Pat Summitt was presented with an Honorary Doctorate from the United States Sports Academy on Tuesday, May 19.

Summitt, who has won more games than any coach in college basketball, accepted her award during a presentation ceremony on the Academy's campus.

The Lady Vols coach developed a passion for basketball as a young child and continued playing through college at the University of Tennessee-Martin. In 1973, Summitt made her first U.S. National Team, winning a silver medal at the World University Games in the Soviet Union. She played on the gold-medal-winning team in the 1975 Pan American Games and brought home the silver while serving as co-captain of the 1976 Olympic Team. The next year, Summitt won two gold medals with the U.S. World Junior Team and was awarded another gold medal as coach of the U.S. Olympic Team in 1984.

While a graduate student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Summitt was offered the position of the team's head coach at age 22.

Over the past 35 seasons as the Lady Volunteers Head Coach, Summitt has kept her elite program in the winner's circle, earning her 1,000th victory as a head coach during the 2008-2009 season. With 1,005 collegiate wins and 63 international wins, Coach Summitt has produced an unbelievable overall record of 1,068 wins.

Summitt, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000, has led the Lady Vols to eight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles, as well as winning three straight titles in 1996, 1997 and 1998 becoming the first team ever to accomplish this in NCAA women's basketball championship history. The Lady Vols also have 27 Southeastern Conference (SEC) tournament and regular season championships, plus 28 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Summitt has produced 12 Olympians, 19 Kodak All-Americans and 72 All-SEC performers. She has also turned out 43 professional players representing the American Basketball League (ABL), Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and various overseas teams.

Along with the success on the court, Summitt's student-athletes have achieved a 100 percent graduation rate for all Lady Vols who have completed their eligibility at Tennessee. She is also the author of two books, has both the University of Tennessee-Martin and the University of Tennessee basketball courts named for her, as well as having her high school gym bear her name.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Finally at peace, Holdsclaw returns to the WNBA

ATLANTA - Chamique Holdsclaw has polished off the crab cakes and onion rings at Ted Turner's downtown restaurant when a fellow diner notices a tattoo on the inside of her wrist.

"Freedom,'' she says, holding up her arm proudly.

She got the tattoo shortly after "retiring'' from the WNBA, a tumultuous time in her life when she was called everything from star to selfish to head case.

"It's like my own personal freedom,'' Holdsclaw explained. "I'm going to do what I want to do, and I'm going to feel good about it. It's very personal to me.''

These days, she can't stop smiling. Like a beaming bride about to walk down the aisle, Holdsclaw is filled with a sort of bubbling-over joy that hasn't always come so easily to someone who grew up in the projects of New York City, watched her mother nearly kill herself with the bottle, battled depression after the death of the beloved grandmother who raised her, and never quite felt comfortable being the face of women's basketball.

"I'm really,'' Holdsclaw said, pausing as though she couldn't believe what was about to roll off her tongue, "excited. I don't think I've ever said that before.''

After suddenly retiring from the WNBA two years ago, a move she shockingly announced just a few weeks into the season but without much of an explanation, Holdsclaw is ready for a comeback. Her body feels good. Her mind is even better. At 31, she wants to play this game on her terms.

"This is like a new beginning for me,'' said Holdsclaw, who signed a three-year contract with the Atlanta Dream. "I'm just going to go out there and have some fun. I really mean that.''


For those who may have forgotten, Holdsclaw was the 1990s version of Candace Parker, an enormously gifted player who was supposed to have the sort of crossover appeal the women's game so badly needed in those early days of the WNBA.

A four-time All-American at Tennessee, Holdsclaw led the Lady Vols to three straight national championships and an astonishing 134-17 record. She was the leading scorer and rebounder in Southeastern Conference history, collected the Sullivan Award as America's top amateur athlete, and was hailed by many as the greatest women's player ever - before she had even collected a paycheck.

In 1999, Holdsclaw was selected first overall in the WNBA draft by the Washington Mystics, a struggling team in desperate need of some star power. The hype-o-meter went off the charts when she became the first female to appear on the cover of SLAM magazine, posing in a New York Knicks jersey and leading to an inevitable question: Was she actually good enough to play in the NBA?

In retrospect, Holdsclaw could have done without all the hoopla.

"Some people looked at it as me being stuck up. I wasn't,'' she said during an hourlong interview with The Associated Press. "I just wanted to chill. I'm sorry, but this is the way I am. Since I was a young kid, I've been this way. I never wanted to be the center of attention. That's just the way it is.''

Holdsclaw was forced to put up a wall during her formative years growing up in the Astoria section of Queens. Her father had mental health problems. Her mother was an alcoholic.

"I was so embarrassed,'' she said. "The kids would make fun of me. They would make fun of my mom. They would be saying, 'Why is your mom like that?' It made me almost like an introvert. I was always fun to be around, but a part of me kind of went into my little box.''

Still, to those on the outside, Holdsclaw appeared to be leading a charmed life. She was named rookie of the year. She started in the very first WNBA All-Star Game. She played on the U.S. team that won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

But trouble was brewing. The Mystics changed coaches constantly and never had much success, other than a run to the Eastern Conference finals in 2002. The following year, even as Holdsclaw was averaging 20.5 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, Washington slumped to last in the East with a 9-25 record.

Then, her grandmother died suddenly from a heart attack. She was only 63.

Holdsclaw was devastated.

"I think it would have been different if I was kind of prepared for it,'' she said.

In July 2004, Holdsclaw failed to show up for the Mystics' game against Charlotte. She came back for one game, then sat out the rest of the season - including the playoffs. Everyone was baffled. Holdsclaw would only rule out the most obvious possibilities: pregnancy, addiction, illness.

After the season, Holdsclaw finally revealed she was clinically depressed. Until then, she had been too ashamed to discuss her problems publicly, but felt a need to defend herself when she heard what others were speculating.

"That (stuff) was kind of insulting,'' Holdsclaw said. "I'm supposed to be this enigma, this head case. But people don't know me. I know that everything I do, there's a reason behind it. The thing that was bad, the hardest part, was the whole D.C. thing. That's where people were able to point a finger at me. I was kind of embarrassed about the whole situation.''

Dr. Don Malone of the Cleveland Clinic has studied depression and other health-related issues in sports. He said high-level athletes can be especially vulnerable to mental illness.

"Athletes are used to working through things,'' Malone said. "If you have an injury, you rehab it and get over it. When you have a problem, you're expected to just buck up and get through it. Typically, coaches, media and other people are not the most understanding people in the world. They'll say to an athlete, 'You've got everything. What do you have to be depressed about?' But depression is an illness. It's not only for people without money. It happens to everybody, in any circumstances. It needs to be treated the same way in an athlete as any individual.''


Holdsclaw sought treatment for her depression and got her life back in order. But the story doesn't end there.

After being traded by the Mystics, Holdsclaw had two fulfilling seasons with the Los Angeles Sparks. Then her knees began hurting. None of the doctors could find a problem, which led to whispers that she was merely faking the whole thing because she didn't want to play point guard.

Suddenly, Holdsclaw walked again.

"What I got from people who were close to the whole thing was, I was being a punk, I was being soft,'' she said. "But I felt in that situation, I walked away with my head held high. I felt like I communicated.''

It was hard to find anyone else taking Holdsclaw's side. She came across as a selfish, pampered athlete who would abandon her teammates at the drop of a hat when things didn't go her way.

Holdsclaw will admit that she was looking out for herself in Los Angeles, but only because she felt no one else was. Unlike their NBA counterparts, the top women's players often make the bulk of their money overseas. She was worried about losing a much more lucrative European contract if she played on bum knees.

After leaving the Sparks, Holdsclaw said she was finally diagnosed with chronic tendinitis. She underwent a new procedure known as "platelet-rich plasma,'' in which a person's own blood is used to treat the injury.

"It was painful as hell,'' she said. "Oh my God. They're basically pumping the tendon with blood. The pressure! Oh my God. I almost collapsed there one time.''

Once Holdsclaw fully recovered from the treatment, though, she felt like a new player. She carried on her career in Poland, her retirement only applicable to this side of the Atlantic.

"I had to get used to it - the language, the culture. There's a lot of differences,'' Holdsclaw said. "But once I got into the swing of things, it was great. It was peaceful. You don't understand the language, so you don't understand any criticism. You're just going out there and playing. And they're loving you because you're an American.''

Three years ago, she moved to Atlanta. Last summer, the city landed a WNBA franchise. When Holdsclaw began showing up at Philips Arena to watch the expansion Dream, it was only natural that coach Marynell Meadors put 2 and 2 together.

"Everyone knows Chamique,'' Meadors said. "I would go up and talk to her, welcome her to the games, and she would say, 'You need some finishers. I'm a finisher.' So I told her, 'Let me know when you're ready to put on an Atlanta Dream uniform.'''

Holdsclaw wasn't quite ready to return, but the Dream began making plans in case she changed her mind. Meadors, also the team's general manager, worked out a deal with the Sparks to acquire Holdsclaw's rights.

"She's one of the greatest players ever,'' Meadors said. "She needs to be in our league, whether it's on our floor or someone else's floor.''

After another season in Poland, Holdsclaw decided it was time to come out of retirement in America.

"I talked to her from time to time and she texted me frequently,'' said Pat Summitt, Holdsclaw's coach at Tennessee. "I think that she missed the game. I think she's excited.''

Holdsclaw said she would not have returned with any team but Atlanta, where she'll be surrounded by an extensive support group. She's got her friends. She's got family in Alabama. Summitt is right up the road in Knoxville.

Though no one will ever replace her grandmother, Holdsclaw's mother has reclaimed a prominent place in her life. They're more like sisters than parent and child.

"My sophomore year of college, my grandmother told me, 'I'm not always going to be there,''' Holdsclaw remembered. "I had gone three or four years without ever telling my mother I loved her. I was so upset by what she put us through. But when my grandmother told me that, I finally talked to my mother. I told her, 'I love you.' I still remember it. We were on the phone. My voice cracked. From that day forth, I accepted her back into my life.''

The Dream can't wait to accept Holdsclaw, even though she is coming off arthroscopic surgery after injuring her right knee in Poland. The team started its first season with 17 straight losses and finished 4-30. Meadors gutted the roster and brought in newcomers such as Sancho Lyttle, Nikki Teasley, Michelle Snow and No. 1 overall draft pick Angel McCoughtry.

But Holdsclaw figures to be the center of attention. Meadors isn't worried about her walking out again.

"She has grown tremendously,'' the coach said. "I know she's dealt with all the issues she had. She talked to me about every one of them. She matured, she handled them and she moved on. Now, she's in a better state of mind.

"I think this is the first time in her life,'' Meadors added, "that she's really, really, really been happy.''

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

WNBA star Parker gives birth to baby girl

NEW YORK — Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker has given birth to a baby girl, Lailaa Nicole Williams.

It is the first child for the WNBA’s reigning MVP and rookie of the year and husband Shelden Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Goodwin Sports Management announced the baby girl was born in Los Angeles on Wednesday. She weighed 7 pounds, 6 ounces and was 20 inches long.

“Shelden and I are thrilled,” Parker said in a release. “This is such a life changing moment for us, we feel blessed to have a healthy and beautiful baby girl.”

Parker averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds last season. She was also on the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Parker plans to rejoin the Sparks once she gets the OK from her doctor. The WNBA season begins June 6.

Fever’s Catchings to receive award for youth work

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings will receive the Rev. Charles Williams Award on June 28 for her work with youngsters in Indianapolis.

The award is named for the late president of Indiana Black Expo and is presented each year by that group in conjunction with the Indiana Sports Corp. as part of the Pathfinder Awards Banquet and Youthlinks Indiana charity golf tournament.

Golfer Jack Nicklaus and his wife Barbara, and NCAA president Myles Brand also will receive Pathfinder awards.

Catchings has worked with youngsters through her Catch the Stars Foundation and has given more than $25,000 in scholarships to area students.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Day of 1000 Stories

Pat Summitt usually gives the orders.

For Sunday, the "Day of 1,000 Stories" at the Tennessee Theatre, she was on the receiving end: Be there at noon and wear something orange.

The Tennessee women's basketball coach didn't ask any questions. She took a seat on the left side of the stage and thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon devoted to celebrating her career and her 1,000th career coaching victory. The milestone was achieved with a 73-43 victory over Georgia on Feb. 5. Summitt couldn't have asked for a better day.

"As coaches you don't really stop and reflect,'' Summitt said. "You're always worried about the next day or the next practice or the next game. It was very touching."

UT officials went to great lengths to surround Summitt with family and friends and adorn the stage with numerous props, including the program's eight national championship trophies.

"I thought what could we do," Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan said, "and it's hard to think of something to do for somebody who has everything and for something this significant.

"To me, everybody here is a part of history."

The stars of the tribute were Lady Vols past and present, who represented the entirety of Summitt's 35-year coaching career. But they had some stiff competition.

For example, Old Dominion coach Wendy Larry joked about visiting the sanitation department and a corrections facility in search of something orange to wear. She settled for a department store but left the price tags intact.

"I'm here to represent all the coaches who are in awe of what you've done,'' Larry told Summitt.

There also were poignant outtakes from a yet-to-be-released DVD chronicling Summitt's life. In one of the snippets, Summitt revealed the personal achievement that means the most to her is the birth of her son, Tyler, who's about to graduate from Webb School and will be attending UT next year.

"As much as I've taught him, he's probably taught me even more,'' Summitt says during the documentary.

The players, though, brought the day's theme to life, parading to the stage in two shifts to share their stories. Dianne Brady Fetzer was one of several players in attendance from Summitt's first team (1974-75). Some were wearing T-shirts inscribed with "First Win."

Brady Fetzer recalled discussing defense with Summitt on a van ride home from a road game.

"Me telling Pat what defense to play is like telling Moses how to part the Red Sea,'' Brady Fetzer said.

She also remembered being so intent on following Summitt's instructions that the former point guard forgot to pass on an inbounds play, dribbling instead.

"She said she knew at that moment that she had me,'' Brady Fetzer said.

Several former players collaborated on recounting a middle-of-the-night practice after returning from a road loss at Vanderbilt. Karla Horton Douglas capped it with the rest of the story, saying the players piled into Dawn Marsh's car afterward and went to Krispy Kreme.

Summitt finished another story that recalled Trish Roberts giving a one-finger salute to the fans at Ole Miss after fouling out of a game. Summitt said afterward that Roberts had been the victim of a racial epithet.

Kellie Jolly Harper, the new coach at North Carolina State, was among the second wave of storytellers, as was departing senior Alex Fuller, who will be a graduate assistant at Kansas next season.

Former point guard Michelle Marciniak spoke directly to the current Lady Vols in attendance, who had a 22-11 season that ended in March with a program first: a first-round NCAA tournament loss to Ball State.

"It's going to be H-E-double toothpicks, but you're going to win a national championship," Marciniak said.

Guard Shekinna Stricklen, the lone current player on the stage, spoke directly to Summitt. She walked over to her, went down on one knee and said. "I'm coming to you begging: can we please have our locker room back?' "

Perhaps Stricklen thought she'd catch her coach at a moment of weakness. Think again. The story of last year's team being banished from the locker room will be continued - at least for awhile.

"I have thought about it,'' Summitt said. "I'm going to wait and see how they start practice this fall. They're going to have to show our staff that they've learned and they are going to be invested."

Family, friends celebrate Summitt's 1,000-plus wins

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summitt’s stone-cold, intense stare was talked about often, but noticeably absent from her face on a day when she was honored.

Smiles and occasional moments of blushing were the expressions of the day Sunday for college basketball’s all-time winningest coach.

The University of Tennessee hosted “Pat Summitt’s Day of 1,000 Stories” at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville.

For more than two hours, Summitt found herself surrounded by past and present players, along with family and friends, to relive some of her 1,005 career victories at Tennessee.

“It’s all about family, friends and us coming together toward a common cause,” Summitt said. “To do something very good to make a difference in this world for young women. It’s huge.”

It also was another chance for the 56-year-old icon of women’s basketball to reiterate she’s far from finished.

If anything, the frustration of a 22-11 record in 2008-2009 — including an unprecedented first-round exit for the Lady Vols from the NCAA Tournament — has fueled Summitt’s passion.

“I’ve been on a mission and I’m going to stay on that mission,” she said. “I’m going to continue to recruit, inspire and teach at the highest level.”

To the outside world, Summitt has nothing more to prove.

She has powered Tennessee to eight national championships and a career record of 1,005-193 in her 35-year tenure with the Lady Vols.

Summitt reached 1,000 victories with a 73-43 romp past Georgia on Feb. 5 on the Thompson-Boling Arena floor that now bears her name “The Summitt.”

It was then that Tennessee women’s athletic director Joan Cronan began planning Sunday’s celebration.

“Today’s a special day because we’re not only honoring someone who has made great accomplishments,” Cronan said, “but we’re honoring someone who has made a difference in all of our lives.”

Summitt’s first victory came when she was barely older than some of her players, a 1975 win against Middle Tennessee State University.

Since then, Tennessee has made 28 NCAA Tournament appearances and won a combined 27 SEC Tournament and regular-season titles.

Assistant coach Holly Warlick and former assistant Nikki Caldwell — now head coach at UCLA — acted as the early emcees.

Caldwell pretended she was Summitt getting a call from President Barack Obama and being put on hold.

“This man better hurry up,” Caldwell said. “I’ve got things to do.”

Past players didn’t talk nearly as much about championships as they did the fear they had when Summitt’s well-documented temper was aimed in their direction.

Apparently, 3 a.m. practice sessions after particularly ugly losses were the norm back in the days prior to NCAA restrictions on practice time per week.

After one particular loss to Vanderbilt, Summitt told her players they were not to talk the entire three-hour ride home. There also wouldn’t be any post-game dinner that night.

“She told us we weren’t allowed to eat because we might choke on it,” former guard Shelley Sexton-Collier said. “We got back to Knoxville, watched film of the game we’d just lost, and Pat said we had two minutes to get our uniforms back on and get out on the practice floor.

“We finally finished up about 4:30 that morning and it was made clear to us we would all be at our 7:50 a.m. classes.”

Player after player related similar stories. Player after player each finished their times with the microphone thanking Summitt for their life lessons learned.