Ex-Olympic coaches honored
DENVER -- On Saturday, two longtime adversaries shared a hug courtside at the Pepsi Center. On Sunday, they shared in a tribute to coaching legends.
At halftime of the Baylor-Stanford national semifinal, UConn's Geno Auriemma and Tennessee's Pat Summitt were honored along with the other coaches of the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team.
All were present except the late Kay Yow, who coached the 1988 Olympic team; she passed away in January 2009 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Stanford's Tara VanDerveer (1996) was in the arena but didn't take part in the tribute as she was preparing for the second half of her team's game.
Auriemma, who is leading this year's women's squad for the London Games, looked subdued, since the ceremony was little more than an hour after his Huskies had lost an 83-75 barnburner in overtime to Notre Dame.
But he also smiled and joked with his fellow Team USA mentors Anne Donovan (2008), Van Chancellor (2004), Nell Fortner (2000), Theresa Grentz (1992) and Billie Moore (1976). Women's hoops became an Olympic sport in 1976; the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games for which the late Sue Gunter would have been coach.
The last coach announced, of course, was the 1984 gold-medal winner Summitt, who brought the arena to a lengthy standing ovation. Summitt's battle with early-onset dementia has been the most poignant storyline of this entire women's basketball season.
"I'm just so glad that the women got involved in the Olympics," Summitt said in a statement provided by USA Basketball. "It meant the world to me to know there was a place to play after we played basketball in college. We could travel. We could compete. I just made some of the best friends -- ever.
"I really appreciated walking in here and seeing this. It was touching for all of us. No doubt about it."
Saturday while his team practiced in preparation for their semifinal, Auriemma went over to greet Summitt, who was there for the announcement of the WBCA All-American team that included Tennessee forward Glory Johnson.
Auriemma said they talked about Summitt's foundation that supports Alzheimer's research and education, and the health of the Tennessee coach.
"She pretty much expressed that she's doing great and she feels good, that she's under great care, that she's being taken care of by the best people," Auriemma said. "It was only a couple minutes, but I had told her that I'm sure that once the NCAA tournament is over, we'll get a chance to talk a little bit more."
Auriemma and Summitt -- who've had a contentious relationship at times over the years, with her ending their regular-season rivalry series after the 2007 season -- talked and hugged then. No two coaches have accomplished more in women's college hoops than they have, each serving as a measuring stick for the other.
Summitt has eight NCAA titles and coached a team to an Olympic gold; Auriemma has seven national championships and hopes to get gold this summer. This weekend, they both stood in a well-deserved spotlight for the greatest mentors the sport has to offer.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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