Pat Summitt's memoir was a team effort

New book on former Lady Vols coach needed assist

Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Photo by Wade Payne, AP2013

Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame on Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Saul Young/News Sentinel
Washington Post writer and columnist Sally Jenkins, left, joins Lady Vol head coach emeritus Pat Summitt to watch the Auburn game Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Jenkins co-authored the Pat Summitt memoir “Sum It Up.”

Photo by Saul Young, 2013 Knoxville News Sentinel

Saul Young/News Sentinel Washington Post writer and columnist Sally Jenkins, left, joins Lady Vol head coach emeritus Pat Summitt to watch the Auburn game Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Jenkins co-authored the Pat Summitt memoir “Sum It Up.”

The book jacket of Pat Summitt's book 'Sum It Up,' written with Sally Jenkins. (Crown Publishing Group/Special)

The book jacket of Pat Summitt's book "Sum It Up," written with Sally Jenkins. (Crown Publishing Group/Special)

The title of Pat Summitt’s memoir describes the undertaking as neatly as the words fit the book cover.

“Sum it Up.”

The play on words is obvious. Yet it doesn’t adequately convey the challenge faced by Summitt and co-author Sally Jenkins with totalling the lifetime of the former Tennessee women’s basketball coach. She rose from humble beginnings to a storied 38-season coaching career that featured eight national championships. Summitt became an iconic figure that transcended her sport, as reflected by the Mount Rushmore-quality photo featured on the book jacket.

The book, which goes on sale March 5, is 376 pages. Jenkins estimates that she could’ve written 600.

Furthermore, chronicling Summitt’s life wasn’t possible without conceiving a plan to assist her memory, which has been affected by a brain disease. As Jenkins said this week, “Obviously writing a memoir with Alzheimer’s is a neat trick.”

The magic emerged from photos and interviews with everyone from former players to bitter rivals. They helped guide Summitt through the process. The result is a memoir that’s rich in the recall of people and relationships, more so than events. In the first chapter, Summitt concedes that there are things that she doesn’t remember, important things. But she also says that she remembers every single Tennessee player.

Summitt has continued working with the Lady Vols as the program’s head coach emeritus. No. 11 Tennessee (21-5, 12-1 SEC) plays today (TV: MyVLT, 2 p.m.) at Arkansas (17-9,5-8).

Jenkins supports Summitt’s contention concerning former players with a specific occasion. They were perusing team photos when Summitt pointed her finger at Linda Ray, mentioning her major (Biochemistry) and what kind of a teammate she was. Ray was a Lady Vol from 1981-85, but played in just 19 games, averaging 1.1 points per game.

“The trick of interviewing Pat with the Alzheimer’s is to prompt,” Jenkins said. “If you just say, ‘Let’s talk about the 2008 championship’ it’s difficult for her because numbers don’t mean as much to her. Whereas if you say, ‘Let’s talk about the 2008 championship and Candace Parker and Nicky Anosike, and you sit there with pictures, it’s a whole different experience. If you talk about people it’s a whole different experience.”

The work on Summitt’s memoir began in earnest after she stepped down as coach last April. She and Jenkins had always laughed and joked about doing the book, but not until Summitt was finished coaching.

Jenkins, a columnist for the Washington Post, co-authored two books with Summitt in the 1990s. “Reach for the Summitt” was a how-to manual and “Raise the Roof” told the story of the 1997-98 team, which went undefeated in winning a national championship. All the tapes and transcripts left from those books served the memoir’s purpose.

“There was wonderful stuff in those transcripts, not just about life on the farm but all of her early years,” Jenkins said. “A lot of it got left out of the first two books because it just didn’t fit into a how-to-succeed book.”

“The University of Tennessee Basketball Vault,” a history of the program compiled by former Lady Vols sports information director Debby Jennings, was a valuable resource, too.

“We’d sit down at the beach with ‘The Vault’ and we’d just turn the pages,” Jenkins said. “We’d stop at a picture and we’d talk for awhile.”

Quotes interspersed throughout the book were gathered from fresh interviews during the past year. Three generations of players gathered at Summitt’s house this summer to tell stories. Despite the conviviality of the get-together, Jenkins thinks that some players still are working through their relationship with Summitt, much like she did with her stern father, Richard.

“Pat is very clear on how she managed kids and why she managed them the way that she did,” Jenkins said. “The kids are still sorting through their responses to her and that was interesting.”

Jenkins would relate her player conversations to Summitt as a means of prompting her stories. As the tales mounted from such former Lady Vols as Michelle Marciniak or Abby Conklin about Summitt’s tough manner, Jenkins said that Summitt would simply smile and say, “bless their hearts.”

Jenkins also spoke with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. Despite a fractious history, Summitt said in the book that their friendship has been recouped. Auriemma was the first person to donate to Summitt’s foundation, writing a check for $10,000.

The final part of the process involved Jenkins reading what she’d written, chapter by chapter, to Summitt and gauging her reaction. Along with the basketball material, delicate personal matters had been covered, including her divorce from husband, R.B., and the six miscarriages that she suffered.

Summitt was uncomfortable with the initial account of the miscarriages, telling Jenkins: “It’s too much. It’s too detailed.”

“It was a painful subject,” Jenkins said. “It was too matter of fact, too harsh for her. I just didn’t handle the material the right way.”

Jenkins rewrote the material until Summitt was comfortable with it.

Conversely, Summitt was fine with the vignettes preceding each chapter. They relate to Summitt dealing with Alzheimer’s. Jenkins used the structure to shed light on the subject without it dominating the memoir.

Summitt’s first book appearance is at 4 p.m. March 5 at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at 8029 Kingston Pike.

“We had a good time doing the book, that was huge for me,” Jenkins said, “My favorite thing about the experience is we had a good time doing it.”

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Comments » 9

SummittsCourt writes:

Can't wait to read the book!

Pat Summitt is the greatest women's basketball coach ever (and there are very few men who are her equal) and there will never be another one like her.

Theo writes:

So thankful this book was written. Never thought I'd say this but I'm glad that Pat and Geno have found their way to reconciliation. Life is too short to carry anger forever. Forgiveness is also good for the soul.

fratricide08 writes:

I got to see the Lady Vols and Pat's work from a perspective few others have -- as a student/peer and later as some of my own students. They were different from every other university program whether a club or sport or any other sanctioned group.

After having a few in class, I looked forward to whenever I got a new student handing me their letter on the first day of class because I knew at once that I could expect certain things from them from day one (with many other students, you don't know what to expect from them until a few weeks had passed and you got a chance to know them better). IOW, it didn't take long for me to know that no matter how shy or outgoing that I had a student who would go all out, check on their grades regularly, let me know in advance if they were going to miss class due to a university function (instead of after the fact) and ask about what they needed to do in order to excel etc.

Her work and the emphasis she placed on excellence in all things was reflected in her students/players.

I'm glad to hear that she remembers those relationships because as someone who has taught others the joy truly is in seeing others succeed and my students, all of them regardless of whether they were student athletes, club affiliated, older student returning to college or just your regular enrollee, were the ones who taught me that.

Simply_Orange51 writes:

Wouldn't it be something to see her son coaching the women's team at some point in the future perhaps after CHW retires from UT.....

kyvol98 writes:

in response to fratricide08:

I got to see the Lady Vols and Pat's work from a perspective few others have -- as a student/peer and later as some of my own students. They were different from every other university program whether a club or sport or any other sanctioned group.

After having a few in class, I looked forward to whenever I got a new student handing me their letter on the first day of class because I knew at once that I could expect certain things from them from day one (with many other students, you don't know what to expect from them until a few weeks had passed and you got a chance to know them better). IOW, it didn't take long for me to know that no matter how shy or outgoing that I had a student who would go all out, check on their grades regularly, let me know in advance if they were going to miss class due to a university function (instead of after the fact) and ask about what they needed to do in order to excel etc.

Her work and the emphasis she placed on excellence in all things was reflected in her students/players.

I'm glad to hear that she remembers those relationships because as someone who has taught others the joy truly is in seeing others succeed and my students, all of them regardless of whether they were student athletes, club affiliated, older student returning to college or just your regular enrollee, were the ones who taught me that.

A unique perspective indeed. Thanks for sharing,

johnlg00 writes:

in response to fratricide08:

I got to see the Lady Vols and Pat's work from a perspective few others have -- as a student/peer and later as some of my own students. They were different from every other university program whether a club or sport or any other sanctioned group.

After having a few in class, I looked forward to whenever I got a new student handing me their letter on the first day of class because I knew at once that I could expect certain things from them from day one (with many other students, you don't know what to expect from them until a few weeks had passed and you got a chance to know them better). IOW, it didn't take long for me to know that no matter how shy or outgoing that I had a student who would go all out, check on their grades regularly, let me know in advance if they were going to miss class due to a university function (instead of after the fact) and ask about what they needed to do in order to excel etc.

Her work and the emphasis she placed on excellence in all things was reflected in her students/players.

I'm glad to hear that she remembers those relationships because as someone who has taught others the joy truly is in seeing others succeed and my students, all of them regardless of whether they were student athletes, club affiliated, older student returning to college or just your regular enrollee, were the ones who taught me that.

Well said. That very much echoes my own experience as a GTA and tutor of athletes. The total management of the whole person by everyone associated with the LVs is the very model of a college sports program. It may be easier to do that with a women's program than with the men because women's pro prospects are more limited, so more of the women come to school with the PRIMARY goal of getting a degree. Still, there are lessons to be learned about recruiting for character as much as for athletic ability and for missing no opportunity to improve the education of the athletes in the program's charge.

fratricide08 writes:

in response to kyvol98:

A unique perspective indeed. Thanks for sharing,

Thanks KyVol. I think it's one of those things that more folks need to know about because the difference truly was night and day and I consider it one of her greatest achievements. She set the bar far higher than winning on the court.

fratricide08 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Well said. That very much echoes my own experience as a GTA and tutor of athletes. The total management of the whole person by everyone associated with the LVs is the very model of a college sports program. It may be easier to do that with a women's program than with the men because women's pro prospects are more limited, so more of the women come to school with the PRIMARY goal of getting a degree. Still, there are lessons to be learned about recruiting for character as much as for athletic ability and for missing no opportunity to improve the education of the athletes in the program's charge.

Thanks. And I agree with you wholeheartedly. The program goals and standards set should be the standard model for all universities and all sports. Sure it might be more difficult in men's sports but the goal should still be there. People will often achieve what you expect them to even male athletes with high prospects of going pro and right now we expect way too little and that's what we get in return. Not everyone will make it but most will as long as they know you believe in them -- I think that's the critical piece that Pat and the LV program added (not only can you do this but we know you're capable of doing this and we'll help you get there).

jtc1956#1405220 writes:

This will be a wonderful read as her other 2 books were. Pat is the best and no one will ever fill her shoes. Way to go Pat you are a role model for us all.

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