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Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Updated: August 31, 11:54 AM ET
Catchings looks beyond Summitt's many wins

By Tamika Catchings

The basketball world has been shaken by the news that my coach and friend, Pat Summitt, is suffering from the early stages of dementia. Honestly, at first I was in shock that a woman so close and dear to me -- and so influential -- has been diagnosed with something as feared as dementia. My mind is still cloudy as to what this means, but my heart and faith know that Pat will get through this.

I've always shared my appreciation for Pat with her and with who anyone who will listen. I remember seeing Pat for the first time when I was as an eighth-grader randomly flipping through the TV channels. The screen closed in on her eyes and for a moment it took my breath away! "Who is this woman?" I thought. I ended up watching "this woman" and the Lady Vols for a little bit longer. I learned her name was Pat Head Summitt, and at that point in her career, her teams had already won three national championships. Wow!

Only in my wildest dreams could I have imagined wearing the orange and playing for Pat at the University of Tennessee. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school I remember getting that long-awaited orange recruiting card. I quickly hung it up next to my Alonzo "Zo" Mourning and Larry "Grandmamma" Johnson posters. Soon there were many more cards that got hung on my wall, but that orange one was in my "special" corner.

I remember my nervous feeling as Pat, Mickie DeMoss, Holly Warlick, and Al Brown came on their recruiting visit to my house. I was sick all day -- literally. I thought it was so cool that Pat -- someone with so many accolades and all the success that she had-- could be so humble and down to earth.

One of the earliest days of practice at the University of Tennessee didn't go so well for me. We were going through defensive philosophies, and up until that point no one had ever corrected me on my stance, my hands or anything, really. While I thought I was doing a pretty good job, Pat was not satisfied and let her thoughts be known. Wellllll, I did something no one, let alone a freshman, should ever do: I talked back to her. Needless to say, that was the toughest practice I've ever been through, and I'm so thankful that she didn't follow through on her "Do I have to send you back to Duncanville, Texas?" threat.

Pat became a mother, a mentor, a coach, a friend and so much more to me. From my freshman year to where I stand today, she has never left my side and continues to be a part of my foundation. There are plenty of days that I miss just being able to walk into her office when something is bothering me. She always knew when I needed a hug or just that little extra nudge to set me straight.

The things that she teaches all of us ladies (and even men) who come into contact with her are far more valuable than any accolade that I've ever achieved. I feel that because of her I have become a better woman overall -- a better daughter, a better sister, a better teammate, a better person, a better leader, a better mentor and a role model. I believe God only puts us through what He knows we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13). We will all be strong for Pat, but in yet another trial, her faith is what will bring her and us through.