Pat Summitt working hard, feeling well
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."
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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