Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lady Vols No. 3 in preseason AP women's basketball poll

Tennessee hasn't experienced a Women's Final Four since 2008. Still, the Lady Vols have enough experience in their lineup to receive a No. 3 ranking Saturday in the Associated Press' preseason women's basketball poll.

The Lady Vols, who finished 34-3 last season, were ranked behind only No. 1 Baylor and second-ranked Notre Dame, which thumped UT, 73-59, in the Dayton Regional final last March.

"I think it's because of our seniors, our veterans,'' UT coach Pat Summitt said of her team's ranking before adding, "We're not going to focus on (being No. 3)."

Tennessee has five seniors on its roster and three others with at least a season's worth of experience. Sophomore guard Meighan Simmons started 36 games last season.

Baylor, led by 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner, received 33 of 40 first-place votes from a national media panel. The Lady Bears became the first Big 12 school to be ranked No. 1 to start the season since Texas in 1985 and 1986.

Notre Dame drew six first-place votes and was second. After UT, Connecticut and Stanford rounded out the first five. The No. 2 ranking is the Irish's best since the final poll of 2001 when they also were ranked second. The other first-place vote went to defending national champion Texas A&M, which is ranked sixth.

Baylor could meet Notre Dame in the Preseason WNIT final in mid-November. The Lady Bears also play the Lady Vols on Nov. 27 in Knoxville and UConn before the New Year.

Tennessee, meanwhile, plays 11 teams that are in the preseason poll, including every other top five team but Connecticut. UT's gauntlet begins with No. 7 Miami (Fla.) in the State Farm Tipoff Classic on Nov. 15 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Hurricanes' ranking is the best since they were sixth in the final poll of 1992.

Duke, Louisville, and Georgetown round out the first 10. It's the highest ranking ever for the Hoyas.

There are three other SEC teams in the poll: No. 13 Georgia, No. 18 Kentucky and No. 21 LSU. Georgia and LSU were not ranked at the end of last season.

The Big East has seven teams in the Top 25 with the ACC next at five. The Big 12 joins the SEC with four teams. The Pac-12 has three and Big Ten two. It's the first time there was no team outside the BCS conferences in the Top 25.

Friday, October 28, 2011

On battling dementia, Summitt says, 'you've got to have a game plan'

Vols coach stays active in practice

With Associate Coach Holly Warlick sitting protectively by her side, Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt spoke with reporters Thursday about the Lady Vols and, more importantly, her ongoing battle with early-stage dementia.

"You've got to have a game plan in everything you do," Summitt said.

Summitt's plan is to wake up each morning, drink coffee and work 12 puzzles on her I-pad.

"They really attack your brain," Summitt said of the daily puzzles. "But that's the purpose."

Warlick, who took the SEC basketball Media Day microphone whenever Summitt hesitated, said the coaching icon challenged her staff to puzzle competitions. "We won't do it," Warlick said.

Summitt said she has gotten her mother to also work puzzles.

After the puzzles, Summitt goes to her UT basketball office. She no longer answers fans' email nor performs other mundane coaching chores.

"She's vocal in practice," Warlick said. "... She does a great job in recruiting."

Lady Vols player Vicki Baugh said that she took it as a good sign when Summitt chewed her out for a practice mistake.

"It was a relief," Baugh said. "Then again, I need to get my stuff together. She shouldn't be yelling at a fifth-year senior."

The diagnosis of early-stage dementia came earlier this year. Summitt called a team meeting to inform the players.

"She told us like we were having a casual conversation," Baugh said.

A Hall of Fame coach and winner of 1,071 games in 37 seasons, Summitt decided to continue coaching.

"I love it," she said. "... What I want everyone to know is I'm doing great. Every day I want to get up and I want to go to work. That keeps me going."

Another UT assistant, former UK women's head coach Mickie DeMoss, watched from the periphery of the crowd of reporters listening to Summitt. DeMoss acknowledged her concern.

"It wears on her, the fatigue of it all," DeMoss said of the trip to SEC Media Day and the round of interviews. "She's better in short intervals."

Then DeMoss added, "You know she's a fighter."

UK women's coach Matthew Mitchell noted how Summitt hired him as an assistant in 1999.

"She could have hired any of 5,000 high school coaches," he said. "She just gave me the opportunity because she sensed I have passion and some work ethic."

Summitt made the hire to help Mitchell rather than herself or UT basketball.

"That's an indication of what kind of person she is," Mitchell said. "... She's a tremendous giver."

Summitt's SEC peers rooting for iconic coach

HOOVER, Ala. - Pat Summitt still has a powerhouse team at Tennessee, and she's not going anywhere just yet.

That's good news even to the Lady Vols icon's coaching rivals after Summitt revealed in August that she had been diagnosed with dementia.

"Every day I can't wait to get on the court," the 59-year-old Summitt said Thursday at Southeastern Conference media day. "I'm not ready to retire. I may be old as dirt when I'm still trying to win games."

Winning games probably won't be a problem this season. Summitt's Lady Vols are unanimous favorites to defend their SEC championship.

Summitt would much rather talk basketball than about her illness, but she amiably fielded questions about her fight condition, sitting at a podium next to associate head coach Holly Warlick.

If anything, Warlick said, battling dementia has made Summitt even more focused and conscious of time management.

"She is fine, she is at every practice, she is heavily recruiting," Warlick said. "She is still our head coach, and she is doing a heck of a job."

Summitt's SEC coaching peers have rallied around her.

She's still just "Coach" to Nikki Caldwell, a former Lady Vols player and assistant who is now heading LSU's program.

"I see her as coach. I don't see her any different than that," said Caldwell, part of one Tennessee national championship as a player and two as an assistant. "I see her as somebody who is still hungry as a teacher for the game, someone who still loves the game, someone who is still passionate about preparing her team for greatness.

"You're going to literally have to put coach in a wheelchair and get her out of there. ... Only she'll know when it's time."

And that time doesn't seem to be anytime soon.

Summitt is every bit the coach when she talks about her "gameplan" for dealing with dementia.

"It doesn't really feel any different," Summitt said. "You get your gameplan and you go at it every day. You mix up things that you want to do day in and day out and go to practice, doing regular stuff.

"I don't think it's something that's slowing me down," she said. "I think if anything, it's revving me up."

She works brain teasing puzzles on her iPad for an hour or two in the mornings to keep her mind sharp, and Warlick said she even did a couple on the plane ride to Hoover. The daily business of coaching helps, too.

"It's not just doing puzzles, it's yelling at those players when they're not doing things the right way," Summitt said. "It keeps me involved."

Summitt smiled when asked if the experience of facing the microphones and TV cameras is as stressful as coaching, which she's done with the Lady Vols since 1974.

"I expected everybody to ask me about it," she said. "It is what it is. We will move on."

Her coaching peers and proteges would expect nothing less.

Georgia's Andy Landers said he went through shock and sadness when he learned of Summitt's diagnosis, then started the adjustment period. Talking to her, he said, "you realize that she's comfortable."

"She understands what the challenges are," Landers said. "She has excellent guidance and advice on how to meet the challenges. She's determined to do that, so all of the sudden you find yourself being a supporter, a fan if you will, in this fight, in this competition that she has going on with herself.

"But it's something that, it falls under the category of things you thought would never happen to you. I feel really good now about where she is and what's she's done."

Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell got his start in college ball as a graduate assistant for Summitt's 2000 Final Four team. He calls that "the opportunity of a lifetime."

"The thing that people probably don't realize because you only see her maybe through the lens of a camera on the sideline when she's in the heat of competition, is she is such a generous person," Mitchell said. "She could've put me in a corner and said don't open your mouth for a year, and I would've been happy doing that, but she didn't do that. She really gave me responsibility and always made me feel included. That's what she's done for anyone that's ever worked for her."

In some ways, it's business as usual for the Lady Vols. They're the unanimous picks to repeat as SEC champions and is still one of the sport's statesmen.

"You think about what's she's done for the game of women's basketball," Mitchell said. "She's carried the banner by herself, singlehandedly for so long, we just all owe her a lot."

One group that shouldn't expect Summitt to ease up: Game officials.

"Don't worry about it," Summitt deadpanned. "I know those referees."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Summitt focuses on hoops while managing dementia

Pat Summitt has handled the talk about her dementia diagnosis the same way she manages Tennessee basketball and her life: with control and determination.

The Hall of Fame coach dictated how news of her condition was revealed in August and has made it clear since that she wants the focus to be on basketball, not her.

She's stuck to that plan, speaking reluctantly at practices about her illness while steering conversations to Tennessee's chances at a ninth national championship this season.

On Thursday, she'll be faced with more questions about dementia and Alzheimer's, as she makes her first major public appearance in Birmingham, Ala., for the annual Southeastern Conference media day.

Her message about dementia is clear. She wants others to know they can manage their life with the condition.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Country star Campbell to perform in Maryville, TN as part of farewell tour

Country music Hall of Famer Glen Campbell will perform 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Clayton Center for the Arts as part of the “Glen Campbell Tennessee Homecoming” tour and in honor of UT Lady Vols Basketball Coach Pat Summitt.

The concert will benefit Alzheimer’s Tennessee Inc., a local nonprofit that was chosen by the UT Athletic Department and Pat Summitt as one of the beneficiaries of the “We Back PAT” campaign featuring T-shirts and billboards.

Campbell is now on the road for the last time. “I still love making music,” the 75-year-old Campbell said. “And I still love performing for my fans. I’d like to thank them for sticking with me through thick and thin.”

Four of Campbell’s children are expected to play backup during his “Tennessee Homecoming concert.”

Campbell and his wife Kim of 29 years have shared about how he finds fulfillment through performing during what he is calling his “Goodbye Tour.”

Campbell also released his final studio album, “Ghost On The Canvas,” at the end of August.

Proceeds from the concert will benefit families and research supported by Alzheimer’s Tennessee Inc.

“I’m really not worried about anything,” Campbell said during a recent interview with The Associated Press. “You know those people who say, ‘Oh, geez, I wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow?’ Tomorrow’s cool. Just don’t mess it up. It’s just wonderful. I think where I am at right now in this universe, I wouldn’t want to be anything else than what I am.”

In the past month, Campbell has performed on “The Tonight Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and appeared on the “Tavis Smiley Show.”

On Thursday he played at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles and is set to perform Sunday at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif.

On Tuesday he tapes “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in Los Angeles and, on Nov. 9, he’ll be honored during a five- to six-minute segment on the 45th annual CMA Awards show.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Pat Summitt happy to be back

Pat Summitt is glad to be back at practice with her Tennessee squad after revealing during the offseason that she's been diagnosed with dementia.

"That's what I want to talk about, basketball, not dementia," a fully-engaged Summitt said Wednesday after the Lady Volunteers' first practice of the 2011-12 season.

Summitt revealed to her team and the rest of the world in late August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, over the summer. The 59-year-old Hall of Fame coach said she wanted to go ahead and deal with the news then so she could focus on basketball when the season arrived.

The timing seemed to have a positive effect for the Lady Vols, who have failed to reach the Final Four for three straight seasons after winning back-to-back national championships in 2007 and 2008.

"I think it motivated this team. Once they heard about it, they were like, 'We're cutting down some nets,'" said Summitt, who was her usual intense self on the sidelines. "When I gave them the diagnosis, I think it really motivated them. I wanted to sit down with my team and tell them what was going on. They've been great.

"I think they really are motivated for a championship."

Sophomore guard Meighan Simmons said she cried when Summitt shared the news but feels she's becoming even closer to her coach now.

"I feel like I will be able to hug her more and tell her I appreciate her because I really feel like she really needs that," Simmons said. "With Pat, she's one of the best coaches in the country, and I think to be playing for her I really feel like it touches me because I'm playing for her and she's taking care of me as far as making me become a better person, a better athlete. I feel like now it's our turn to return a favor to her."

Summitt sought a diagnosis after struggling both mentally and physically during the 2010-11 season, which ended with a 34-3 record for the Lady Vols and a loss in the regional finals.

"Back in August after she told us she was going to make that announcement, she came to us and said, 'OK, now that we've got that out of the way, now everyone knows and now we're back to business,'" freshman point guard Ariel Massengale said.

There's been an outpouring from former players, fans and casual observers ever since she revealed she was struggling with dementia. This week alone, Summitt has been named the recipient of the Maggie Dixon Courage award and the Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage award. Former Lady Vol standout Kara Lawson announced she was working to raise money for the Alzheimer's Association in Summitt's honor.

Summitt struggled for several months with the news that she was facing dementia before her son, Tyler, encouraged her to share her diagnosis with the world. Tyler Summitt helps her keep her days organized by making to-do lists for her.

On the list for Wednesday in addition to practice was a book club meeting with the Lady Vols. At their coach's encouragement, they're reading "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, a book about what makes some companies more successful than others.

"We have two players that present anytime that we go in," she said. "It's really been good because they have to explain it. It doesn't come from the coaches, it comes from the players. I think they're learning a lot. It's a good focus for them."