The University of Tennessee and the world of women’s basketball received some shocking news on Tuesday.
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Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of the Lady Volunteers and perhaps the most recognizable face in women’s basketball, confirmed she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Summitt underwent a series of tests at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in May and later learned the news.
"There’s not going to be any pity party and I’ll make sure of that," Summitt told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The 59-year-old is planning to coach her 38th season with the program that she’s led to 1,071 victories, the most of any college basketball coach, men’s or women’s, and eight national titles. She also has the support from the University’s administration to do so.
"I feel better just knowing what I’m dealing with," she told the newspaper. "And as far as I’m concerned, it’s not going to keep me from living my life, not going to keep me from coaching."
She informed the Lady Vols about her diagnosis in a team meeting on Tuesday afternoon, The Associated Press reported.
Junior guard Taber Spani said the meeting was business-like, with Summitt calmly telling the Lady Vols nothing would get in the way for their quest of a ninth national title this season.
”More than anything she just emphasized that she’s our coach and that she wanted us to have complete confidence in her, and we do,” Spani told AP.
Summitt’s longtime associate head coach Holly Warlick said the players told Summitt that they were committed to her and the Tennessee family and would not let her down. Warlick said for Summitt, the support was ”like a weight was off her shoulders.”
”I watched how our team reacted to us today,” Warlick told AP. ”They said, ‘Pat we love you. We’re a family. We’re going to get this done. You’re going to get through this.’ ”
Warlick said Summitt also wanted to crush any speculation about her health after the announcement.
”We got on the phone immediately and called kids and commitments and had nothing but a huge amount of support,” Warlick said. ”I think it’s one thing to see it on the (TV news) ticker. It’s another thing to hear from Pat Summitt that we’re here, we’re going to be here and nothing is going to change about Tennessee basketball.”
Summitt also told the News Sentinel that her grandmother suffered from severe dementia. As defined by the Mayo Clinic, Alzheimer’s is caused by the destruction of brain cells and typically progresses slowly. Summitt added that during last season, she didn’t feel her usual confident self on the court.
"There were some mornings I would wake up and think I don’t even want to go in," she told the newspaper. "That didn’t last long but it was like ‘What’s wrong with me? What’s going on with me?’"
Summitt said she didn’t ponder retirement. She received plenty of encouragement from Dr. Ronald Petersen, the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to continue her coaching career.
"He’s the one who told me you can coach as long as you want to coach and no one else had said anything like that to me," Summitt told the News Sentinel. "I haven’t talked to him (lately) and I even thought about calling him sometime soon and telling him where I am with this. He was so positive (saying) ‘You can work through this.’"
Interim athletic director Joan Cronan is supporting Summitt.
"I’m comfortable because I know her as a person and I know her as a coach," Cronan said. "And I feel like if it wasn’t the right thing for her or us she wouldn’t be going forward."
Summitt had the company of her son, Tyler, during her time at the Mayo Clinic. Tyler is a junior walk-on for the Tennessee men’s basketball program. He explained his mother’s feelings after being diagnosed.
"Nobody accepts this," Tyler said. "And there was anger. ‘Why me?’ was a question she asked more than once. But then, once she came to terms with it, she treated it like every other challenge she ever had, and is going to do everything she possibly can to keep her mind right and stay the coach."
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.