Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tyler Summitt Stepping Out of Legendary Mom's Shadow

When Tyler Summitt was playing high school basketball at Webb School in Knoxville, he could hear the chants from the stands.

"Ma-ma's boy! Ma-ma's Boy!"

Road games, home games. Didn't matter.

His mother, the winningest coach in the history of college basketball, she heard them too. And on more than one occasion, Pat Summitt would go over and have a seat in the section where all the noise was coming from.

"It didn't seem to have the same spirit after that," Pat Summitt said.

Uh, yeah.

It doesn't bother Tyler Summitt that he's got perhaps the most famous last name in town, or even that his last name is painted on the court where he practices every day.

His perspective about legacy is as clear as his future goals. Pat Summitt's only son, the boy who was nearly born on a recruiting trip and was practically raised in Thompson-Boling Arena, is a walk-on on at the University of Tennessee basketball team.

His goal is to become a coach like his mom. He is willing to absorb the ribbing and the doubts that come with his ambitions, particularly when they are countered by the unbridled support of his teammates and his coach.

"I think it works both ways," Tyler Summitt said. "I know the ins and outs around here. I know there might be fans or friends talking behind my back, saying I don't deserve to be on the team. It's the same for Steven Pearl (coach Bruce Pearl's son, who is also on the Vols' roster). We are probably in the biggest spotlight you could possibly be in.

"But I think I've earned the respect of my teammates and I honestly don't care if I play another minute on the team. I love being a part of this."

Tyler Summitt is at practice every day, running scout defense, paying undivided attention to the X's and O's on the white board. He hustles, he lifts, he puts in the same time as stars Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris.

Summitt was not what you would call a high school star. He was cut from the sixth-grade basketball team in middle school, as a matter of fact. Last year, he spent his time as a practice player with the women's team, traveling with the team, sitting on the bench during games, participating in workouts.

But he knew that at some point, he would like to walk on with the Vols' men's team. He and his mother sat down with Pearl to talk it over. Pearl was wide-open to the idea, knowing that Tyler Summitt wants to parlay the experience into a coaching career.

"Part of our job is to provide opportunities," Pearl said. "I see him taking notes. He's always evaluating and studying and watching."

Every class he takes, he said, he is trying to relate to a future career in coaching. He has been keeping a folder full of drills since he was in high school. Call his time on the Vols' roster a kind of interactive research project.

"I want to coach, but I'm not done playing," Summitt said. "I'm not done pushing myself."

He's made two appearances so far, playing the closing minutes of an exhibition game and a decisive win over Middle Tennessee State.

In each game, he hit a 3-pointer. Summitt is 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.

His mom got to see the first shot, not the second. She's been busy with her own team, ranked No. 5 in the country and preparing for a big weekend with a game against No. 3 Stanford.

Pat Summitt was a proud mother in the stands the day she watched Tyler hit that first shot.

"I told him he better quit shooting," Pat Summitt said with a chuckle. "I know this is something that he's wanted to do since he was a little boy. Bruce has one of his best teams here, but he funny thing is, when Tyler hit those shots, his teammates were hugging him. He's a hard worker."

Pearl said Summitt has been an important contributor to his program, a positive influence in the locker room with a strong ethic on the court and in the classroom as well. Tyler is in the Honors Program at Tennessee.

"It goes without saying that Pat Summitt's son would be a hard-working kid," Pearl said. "We are getting something out of this as well. He says the right things, he does the right things. He takes care of his business in the classroom. That stuff can be infectious in the locker room, just being around people like that."

Pearl said he's already testing Tyler's coaching instincts. At one point, he asked the sophomore to come up with three things that his mother does that coach Pearl does not and vice versa.

"It's been everything I could have hoped for," Tyler Summitt said. "My end goal is to do anything I can do to become a Division I college basketball coach."

He knows the next question.

"I don't know yet whether I want to coach women or men. I do know that I want to stay in the men's game as long as I can, because it's easier to go from being a men's coach to women's basketball than from the women's game to men's basketball."

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