Lady Vols: Getting back to basketball
The boom microphones hovered like construction cranes above Tennessee's first official practice of the women's basketball season.
She figured right.
UT coach Pat Summitt's offseason announcement that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type increased the media turnout Wednesday and created a skyline of sorts at Pratt Pavilion. Robin Roberts of ABC-TV was present. Roberts, a 2012 inductee to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, had interviewed Summitt for the network's news program "20/20" as well as ABC's morning program "Good Morning America."
While the workout had some typical first-day sloppiness, the tempo and energy belied an opening practice. Apparently the Lady Vols weren't distracted by the crowd or the equipment.
"When you have 20-some thousand fans you play in front of," Manning said, "things like that really don't bother you."
Summitt revealed her diagnosis in August with an eye toward October and preserving the usual practice routine. She said as much on Wednesday by saying, "That's what I want to talk about — basketball, not dementia. Believe me."
Even though her routine is different, Summitt indicated that she feels good about herself — with some assistance from her son, Tyler.
"I've got a game plan, Tyler Summitt he's got it all written out every day what I have to do,'' Summitt said.
She also feels good about her team, no matter how many microphone-threatening passes they threw on Wednesday. She thinks that her situation might bring out the best in the players.
"I think it's motivated this team,'' Summitt said. "Once they heard about it, they were like 'We're cutting down some nets.' "
Sophomore guard Meighan Simmons validated Summitt's viewpoint, characterizing the players' work as a way of showing their respect to her.
"I really feel like it touches me because I'm playing for her and she's taking care of me as far as making me become a better person, a better athlete,'' said Simmons, who said that she cried when learning of Summitt's diagnosis. "I feel like now it's our turn to return a favor to her."
Simmons sounded motivated to reach out and touch Summitt throughout the season.
"I feel like I will be able to hug her more and tell her I appreciate her because I really feel like she really needs that,'' Simmons said.
Manning related the prevailing circumstances to reading the book "Good to Great." The team has gathered like a book club throughout the preseason, repeating the practice on Wednesday. Players have led the discussion about a book by Jim Collins that details how companies improved their performance over time. Manning said that a specific chapter speaks directly to Summitt's diagnosis and the Lady Vols' response.
"One of the chapters is accepting brutal facts and moving forward," Manning said. "That's a brutal fact and we're going to move forward."
Summitt Honored: Summitt has received the 2011 Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias Courage Award, given by the United State Sports Academy.
The award is presented annually to an individual who demonstrates courageous action in overcoming adversity to excel in sport.