Former players, colleagues salute Summitt at charity event

July 11, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Pat Summitt's former players and colleagues say her fight against Alzheimer's disease could leave an even greater legacy than any of the former Tennessee women's basketball coach's championships or records.

Dozens of former Lady Vols and hundreds of Tennessee fans gathered Saturday for the ''Evening For Champions'' salute to Summitt, a charity event benefiting the Pat Summitt Foundation and the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The gathering was hosted by Robin Roberts of ''Good Morning America'' and was attended by former Tennessee women's athletic director Joan Cronan and former Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer.

Fulmer said that ''this will be her greatest accomplishment'' as he praised Summitt's courage in battling Alzheimer's and starting her foundation to raise awareness of the disease.

''On a scale of what's real life, what she's done for people by raising awareness and dollars and putting the foundation (together) is much more impactful than what her record might have been,'' Fulmer said.

Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight national titles and earned 1,098 victories - the most of any men's or women's college basketball coach ever - in 38 seasons as Tennessee's coach. She stepped down in 2012, one year after announcing she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Summitt now spends much of her time helping battle Alzheimer's through her foundation.

''When she fights this disease, what she has taught all of us is how to do it with courage,'' Cronan said. ''She's done that from day one. It's been about (how) we can find a cure for this disease, and she has done it facing it straight-on and she's done it giving back as she always has.''

As former Lady Vols sat in chairs on the Tennessee Theatre stage and told stories about the legendary coach, Summitt watched the 2 1/2-hour event from a seat in the balcony. She didn't speak at the event but often laughed, smiled or nodded as former players and colleagues shared their recollections. The stories included frequent references to her trademark stare as well as some humorous anecdotes.

Summitt's son, Louisiana Tech women's coach Tyler Summitt, offered a videotaped message in which he told the story about the time his mom watched him play a youth soccer game. At halftime, she told her to get more aggressive, so he followed her orders.

''After the game, my coach got on me a little bit, (and),so I went over to Mom and said, `Mom, I'm confused. You tell me to be aggressive, but my coach tells me I'm not playing my position,'" Tyler Summitt recalled. ''She didn't realize I was the goalie.''

All the players discussed what they learned from Summitt during their college years and detailed how she continues to impact their lives.

''Coach Summitt is an A-plus-plus-plus person,'' said Chamique Holdsclaw, who led Tennessee to three straight national titles from 1996-98. ''They don't really make people like that anymore.''