Tennessee’s Summitt has early onset dementia

Pat Summitt made it clear. She won’t accept a ”pity


The winningest coach in women’s basketball just wants to focus

on getting Tennessee back on top.

Summitt surprised the sports world with her announcement Tuesday

that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia – the

Alzheimer’s type. The Hall of Fame coach appeared stoic during a

minute-long video posted on the school’s website.

”I plan to continue to be your coach,” the 59-year-old said in

the video. ”Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with

this condition since there will be some good days and some bad


There is no cure for the disease and even Summitt’s icy glare

that has struck fear in many an opponent, official or Lady Vols

player, won’t be able to stop its advances.

Still she said she won’t have her time at Tennessee turn into a

”pity party.”

Summitt isn’t sure how much longer she will coach only saying

that she would do it ”as long as the good Lord is willing”.

Before Tuesday’s news, Summitt was trying to figure out a way to

end a three-year drought of missing the Final Four – one of the

longest in her 37-year tenure at the school. She does have one of

the top recruiting classes coming in this year as freshmen.

She met with her team Tuesday to discuss her diagnosis. Junior

guard Taber Spani said the meeting was businesslike, with Summitt

telling the Lady Vols nothing would get in the way for their quest

of a ninth national title this season.

”It’s shocking, just because you don’t expect that to happen to

someone you look up to,” Spani said. ”I admire her, and just

seeing her just gave me more confidence in her as a coach. We’re

going to rally.”

Summitt will rely more on her assistants – Holly Warlick, Dean

Lockwood and Mickie DeMoss – but they aren’t sure exactly how

things may change.

”We’re here to help Pat as far as coaching and will help this

program continue its tradition. And I’m here for Pat as a friend,”

Warlick said. ”I know she’s going to be here coaching, but she is

quick to say this is Tennessee basketball. We’re going to carry on

the tradition no matter what.”

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


Summitt’s family and closest confidants have known about her

condition since she first learned of it, but the Hall of Fame coach

first revealed the news publicly to the Washington Post and

Knoxville News Sentinel.

She also told her former players early Tuesday morning.

”As a player, we know coach is the type who’s not going to give

up. She’s going to fight, she’s going to do everything she can,”

said Michelle Snow, who played for Tennessee from 1998-2002.

”She’s probably going to be the best patient they ever had. She’s

a fighter and she’s been through a lot. She knows how to fight and

she’s going to continue to do that.”

As the stunning news swept across the women’s basketball world

Tuesday, the reaction was simple: she’ll meet the disease head


Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn first met Summitt 40 years ago at

Tennessee-Martin. The two used to play softball in the summer

together and were sorority sisters. She was floored this morning

when she got the phone call with the news.

”My first reaction was tremendous respect, how she was publicly

acknowledging this disease. I know how tough minded she is,

tremendous perseverance,” Dunn said by phone. ”She will bring

national attention to this disease and she can spearhead a move to

try and fight it.”

That sentiment was echoed by former Lady Vols star Candace


”I don’t think she is going to let it affect her,” the Los

Angeles Sparks star said. ”I think she is going to continue on

coaching as long as she can. She came out with (the news) and now

we’re going to move forward.”

Summitt’s biggest rival, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was

shocked and saddened by the news.

”You don’t necessarily associate dementia with people our age,

so this announcement really put things in perspective,” he


Summitt has won eight national titles at Tennessee and is 29

victories short of 1,100 – that would give her 200 more than former

Texas coach Jody Conradt, who is No. 2 on the list.

”It always seemed she had no vulnerability,” Conradt said.

”She’s the solid rock everyone looked up to. … I’m very happy

she’s not going to walk off the court at this point. When you have

made it your life, there needs to be transition.”

Summitt has been bothered for a while by rheumatoid arthritis.

Tennessee athletics director Joan Cronan said that the coach

initially chalked up her memory problems to side effects from

medicine she was taking to treat it.

The coach first consulted local doctors, who recommended she

undergo a more extensive evaluation. In May, she traveled to the

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors performed a spinal

tap and other tests that eventually produced the diagnosis.

Summitt’s first reaction was anger, but that soon gave way to


”She’s ready to fight this and move on,” Cronan said. ”She

had to come to grips with how she wanted to face it.”

Talking about it was a big step and her son Tyler was

instrumental in making that happen.

”Tyler has been so courageous in this,” Summitt’s longtime

associate head coach Holly Warlick said. ”He encouraged her to

come forward.”

Tyler has been supporting his mother throughout this process; he

went to the Mayo Clinic with her in May. And though he has been a

great sounding board, the 20-year-old said his mom’s revelation is

a life lesson for everyone.

”It seems like she teaches me something new everyday, and she

is currently giving me one of the best life lessons of all: to have

the courage to be open, honest, and face the truth,” he said.

”This will be a new chapter for my mom and I, and we will continue

to work as a team like we always have done.”

AP Sports Writers Beth Rucker and Jim Vertuno contributed to

this story.

Follow Doug Feinberg at http://twitter.com/dougfeinberg.