Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summitt-Wooden Room Dedicated

NCAA Names Room At New Building After Two Legendary Hoops Coaches

INDIANAPOLIS -- Among her incredibly lengthy list of career honors, Tennessee Women's Basketball Head Coach Emeritus Pat Summitt has two basketball courts, a gym and a campus street named after her. Now the eight-time national champion coach has a room at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Headquarters named in her honor as well.

The NCAA formally dedicated a new building at its national office as the Brand Building in honor of the late President Myles Brand, who served as the Association's chief executive from 2003-09. Located within that facility are rooms named after NCAA sports icons, and Summitt and UCLA men's basketball coaching great John Wooden were jointly honored with the dedication of the Summitt-Wooden Room on Tuesday.

Summitt amassed eight national titles and an NCAA-best (men or women) 1,098 basketball victories over 38 seasons at the helm of the Lady Vols. Wooden, meanwhile, directed UCLA to an NCAA-leading 10 hoops championship trophies and 620 wins during his 27 years leading the Bruins.

Among the dignitaries in attendance at the private event were Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Also recognized at the dedication were other NCAA icons with rooms named after them, including James Frank, Judy Sweet, Christine Grant, Charlotte West. Family members or representatives for Theodore Roosevelt, John Wooden, Jesse Owens and Althea Gibson also were present.

Pat Summitt

Matthew Mitchell’s days at Central Holmes Academy High School were busy.

In the mid-1990s, he was the head coach of boys and girls basketball teams, the golf teams, and the track and field teams. Mitchell was also the defensive coordinator for the football team. He even cleaned the floors.

Mitchell didn’t have time to think about Pat Summitt.

In 1996, a friend of Mitchell’s, who was also an assistant coach at Mississippi at the time, told him he could help out at a women’s basketball camp at the University of Tennessee. Always in the market to learn more about coaching, Mitchell headed to Knoxville. It didn’t take him long to find out who Summitt was. And how selfless she is.

“That’s where I first noticed how giving she was,” Mitchell said. “There were 100 coaches from all over the country, and she would spend time with all of them.”

During the summer of 1999, his fourth working at Summitt’s camp, he was offered a job as a graduate assistant on Summitt’s staff. Although his stay in Knoxville lasted just a year before his career took off, eventually landing him at the University of Kentucky’s as head coach of the women’s basketball program, the confidence he developed from working with Summitt still stays with him.

Summitt’s been a pioneer in women’s basketball longer than her players have been alive. She was hired in 1974 as a graduate assistant at Tennessee, when women’s basketball was still governed by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). Before the 1974-75 season began, the head coach quit and Summitt was quickly promoted to head coach, starting a 38-year run with the Lady Vols that included eight national championships,18 Final Fours and 16 Southeastern Conference crowns. She was named national coach of the year seven times and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2000.

If that’s not impressive enough, her career coaching record is 1098-208.

But no amount of championships, honors or statistics could keep Summitt from thinking she was above the sport that ran through her blood. It wasn’t uncommon for her to walk into Tennessee’s student union, step onto a table and promote the women’s basketball game that night – even at the height of the Lady Vols’ success. When it came to advancing women’s basketball, she was second-to-none. Often, Summitt volunteered to move the time of Tennessee’s games if it fit the TV network’s schedule better.

If a Kiwanis or Rotary club asked her to speak, Summitt never said no.

Michelle Perry, the director of the Division I women’s basketball championship, said Summitt was always available when the NCAA needed someone to speak to corporate sponsors. In 2008, the NCAA hosted its sponsors in Tampa, the site of that year’s Final Four. Summitt took the stage in front of a crowd of sponsors, the majority made up of men.

“You could hear a pin drop,” Perry said. “Every person was absolutely mesmerized. I saw grown men climb over each other to shake her hand. She transcends not just women’s basketball, she transcends sports.”

But her priority is Tennessee and her student-athletes.

“Pat has been the No. 1 ambassador for the University of Tennessee, for women’s athletics, for women’s basketball,” said Joan Cronan, the former Tennessee Lady Vols athletic director who has worked with Summitt for 29 years. “She’s always been, not only a great representative but also a person who wants everyone else to be the best they can be. The most important thing to her is the team she’s dealing with.

“The fact that we lead the nation in attendance isn’t something that just happened. Pat Summit has always been willing to get out among the student body, among the community and help promote the game.

It’s all of this that made it so much harder on women’s basketball – and sports in general – when Summitt announced in August that she was suffering from early onset dementia. Summitt coached through the 2011-12 season and then handed over the helm of the most successful program in women’s Division I college basketball history to Holly Warlick, a former player and assistant coach for 27 years.

“The team always came first,” Cronan said. “But what she’s done with other coaches is also incredible.”

Mitchell’s story is one of hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches who have benefitted from some form of Summitt’s help. Usually it’s a coach just calling about an opponent or with a question about strategy. Sometimes it’s a coach stopping by one of Summitt’s practices, which are famously open to any coach who asks.

And other times, Summitt’s selflessness extends to helping a coach ascend the ladder, as was the case with Mitchell and former players such a LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell and Warlick.

“She’s always put everybody – coaches, players – in front of her,” Warlick said. “She always puts the game and everything she does in front of her own personal success and in her life. You can’t just say it enough.”

No one has seen it happen more often than Tyler Summitt, Pat’s son.

Phone calls from coaches and game film became the soundtrack for Pat’s home. Tyler said other coaches would call often for advice on opponents, an offensive or defensive scheme or even a job. And he doesn’t remember his mother saying no when asked to recommend a fellow coach for a job.

“That’s a pretty strong recommendation,” Tyler said with a laugh.

Yet, Tyler didn’t ask her for one when he started searching for his first coaching job.

“Just call my mom, she would be a good reference,” he said with a mighty laugh.

In April he was hired as an assistant coach at Marquette University, but it was his basketball IQ, not his last name, that helped land him the job. At first, Marquette coach Terri Mitchell told Tyler she didn’t have room for another coach on her staff. After about 45 minutes on the phone about X’s and O’s and coaching philosophy, Mitchell was so impressed she flew Tyler up for an interview. She hired him on the spot.

It wasn’t quite Pat’s influence that helped Tyler land a job, but instead years of listening to his mother dissect game film as a bedtime story had an impact only the two Summit’s could share.

“That’s not all I got from my mom, there’s so much more,” Tyler said. “It’s deep down inside, the value of selflessness.

And Pat got her value of selflessness from her father.

When Pat was a child, her father, Richard, would give out loans to people around Henrietta, Tenn., their hometown, and never made them pay him back. He wanted to help them get back on their feet. At his funeral in 2005, Tyler remembers people, sometimes total strangers, telling Pat and Tyler about her father’s generosity.

“Her dad was feared among a lot of people, but he was still a very giving person,” Tyler said. “Mom brought that style to every area of her life.”

The success never changed Pat. Some of Tyler’s earliest memories were of the national championships in 1996, 1997 and 1998.

“I grew up thinking you just win a national championship every year,” Tyler said. “And then once we didn’t win there for a few years, I really saw what my mom was doing and how much she was helping others and putting herself aside for anybody who walked through the door. It really shaped me as a person.”

While Summitt would help anybody who asked, she cherished helping young women in the sport. As a high school student, Summitt had to transfer schools just to get an opportunity to play on a team, Tyler said.

Even as her coaching career came to a close last spring, Summitt isn’t going to stop helping others. And she’s certainly not going to let her pay-it-forward mentality go away.

As she combats early onset dementia, Summitt is already letting the world in to watch her cope with hopes of helping others.

“I think you can see it through her illness because she’s opened up her personal struggles and personal life for the community,” Warlick said. “She didn’t have to do that. She didn’t have to open up. She chose to do that because that’s the type of person she is.”

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