Lady Vols await Summitt’s fate
Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 7:00 pm
By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — If Pat Summitt’s career isn’t over, it sure felt that way after Tennessee was ousted from the women’s NCAA tournament.
Associate head coach Holly Warlick’s tears during the postgame press conference brought home the possibility this was the last run for Summitt, who hasn’t said whether she will return next season.
After announcing in August she has early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, Summitt said she wanted to coach as long she could.
The 59-year-old Summitt and her coaching staff are expected to be in Denver for the women’s Final Four. Warlick said Summitt hasn’t discussed the situation with her or anyone else and likely will take time to evaluate things before ultimately making a decision.
This season’s emotional roller coaster ended with the Lady Vols’ 77-58 loss to Baylor in the regional finals, marking the first time a Tennessee senior class didn’t play in a Final Four.
ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck, a Tennessee native who served as one of Summitt’s assistant coaches for two seasons and coached against her at Florida, said it was a stressful year for the Lady Vols.
“They had to carry on knowing that Pat was battling the disease and that the seniors had never been to a Final Four,” Peck said. “That was double motivation for them.”
Now it’s time to look to the future, which is filled with uncertainty while everyone awaits Summitt’s next move.
The decision of whether to return for 39th season or step down solely belongs to Summitt, whose 1,098 career victories is the most by any coach in NCAA basketball history. She has two more years left on her contract, and Tennessee officials have said they will support her in whatever she chooses to do.
“Her love of the game, she’s not lost that,” Warlick said tearfully after Monday’s loss. “She may forget where her phone is, but she’s not going to forget to yell at the officials. She’s still competitive. I don’t care what disease she has; she’s going to go down swinging.”
After Summitt announced her diagnosis, everything changed for the Lady Vols. Warlick and the rest of the Tennessee assistants took on greater responsibilities on the practice court and during and after games.
The assistants ran practices, with Summitt watching from the sidelines. Warlick handled postgame press conferences and was in charge of game management, with Summitt occasionally coming off the bench to yell at an official or player or deliver her trademark icy stare.
Peck said the Lady Vols missed seeing that intensity on a regular basis.
“They missed the affect that stare has on her team,” she said. “They missed the affect it has on opponents. And they missed the affect it has on officials.”
The scrutiny on Summitt’s health and future grew as Tennessee suffered blowout defeats at Stanford and Notre Dame and lost a program-high three games at home this season. Though the Lady Vols still won the Southeastern Conference tournament and reached the Elite Eight, they fell short of Summitt’s goal for them to win Tennessee a ninth national championship.
“Every player who has been to Tennessee has been to a Final Four. That was important to Pat — that was part of their tradition,” Peck said. “So for them not to get there, that was a big deal.”
Though they’re disappointed by the way their careers ended, the Lady Vols seniors still think they’ve laid the groundwork for future success at Tennessee — success that they hope includes Summitt.
“This program is only going get a lot stronger, and we’re building off of this,” senior forward Glory Johnson said. “We’re just going keep on making our mark and keep on getting stronger. We’ll just look to the underclassmen to keep playing hard for these great coaches.”
Published in The Messenger 3.28.12