Advancing to the Sweet 16 after a 15 point victory over DePaul on a not-so-neutral court in suburban Chicago on Monday night meant the first leg of the Tennessee Lady Vols “business trip” was over and the team was finally able to relax and let loose for a minute. In the lockerroom everyone was upbeat and lighthearted as the Lady Vols celebrated their 30th trip to the sweet 16, a step closer to a possible 19th Final Four. The major difference, it is the first NCAA Tournament without the infamous sideline antics of Pat Summit, antics feared by players and opponents and revered by fans.
The news last August of Summit's early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, rocked the entire basketball community and the state of women's basketball at Tennessee seemed to be up in the air as no one outside of the program knew what was going to happen next. Since then, Pat has relinquish the bulk of her coaching responsibilities to top assistant Holly Warlick, yet everyone in Knoxville agrees Summit remains very much in charge in and her presence is definitely still felt and feared.
“Pat Summit has not quit coaching,” says Coach Warlick. “She is just more focused on one-one-one, individual help. You don't have to worry about Pat not coaching and getting the point across. She is very good at letting players know they're doing a good job.”
“People don't really get to see the coach that we get to see,” says senior guard Briana Bass. “She still gets on us in practice as if nothing ever happened. She's still there. We know that she's there.”
Senior guard Shekinna Strickland agrees that Pat is just as motivating, while the message may be delivered differently, it's still very effective.
“Pat still talks to us and motivates us, and she still yells at us at halftime. I've gotten the stare many teams this season.”
Ahhh, yes, “The Stare.” You can't talk about Coach Summit to her players – or anyone familiar with the program – for any length of time and someone not mention the cold, icy look that peers straight down into your soul where you actually feel it. For decades she's used that look to not only motivate her players, but to get her point across without having to utter a single syllable. And when she gives it to you, you know she means business.
Kamiko Williams gets "the stare" during the 2010 SEC Tournament. (photo by Kelly Kline)
Shekinna Stricklen goes face to face with Coach Summitt duringthe 2012 SEC Tournament (photo by Kelly Kline)
Most recently Stricklen got the infamous stare during the 2012 SEC tournament after picking up three fouls and scoring just 2 points in the first half of the Vols game against in state rival Vanderbilt. “I got the stare. She really stared at me, then Coach came over there and went off on me. It was a lot of motivation. I had to really respond.”
And Stricklen did responded, going off for 16 points in 10 minutes putting the game away, all proof that Pat is still the master puppeteer.
According to junior guard Taber Spani, the fact that she's less vocal on the sidelines these days makes “The Stare” all the more menacing and effective.
“I've gotten the stare, it's intimidating, and if we need it, she'll definitely use it to get us back focused. If she needs to yell at somebody, you'll still hear it. Obviously, she's still our coach and our coach in a different role, and even though it looks a little bit different, we know who's still boss.”
And when you're the boss, you get respect. Which is what this senior class, the only senior class in Tennessee history that has yet to attend a final four, is hoping to give coach Summit with an extended run in the post season. "If one person deserves it, it's her (coach summit)," said senior all-amerian candidate Glory Johnson." She's been through so much, and we've tried to help her through it, and a loss doesn't really help, but a championship does."
Last Sunday, as Pat Summit made her way from the locker room area to the court for Tennessee's opening round matchup against UT-Martin – her alma mater, Summit received a standing ovation from the Allstate Arena crowd gathered to witness what may be one of the last times anyone will ever see the Hall of Fame coach on the sidelines.
But the women's basketball program at Tennesssee will always bear her imprint.
“Pat's a competitor. If she plays her mother in checkers then she's going to want to beat Miss Hazel,” offered Coach Warlick. “She's a competitor and wants to win.”
This is what Lady Vols basketball has always been and will always be about. Playing hard, competing hard and winning. It's an identity crafted by one of the best to ever coach the game on any level. An identity that will be the blueprint to success for the future generations of women who will come to Knoxville to not only win, but to play in the program built by the legendary Pat Summit.