WNBA Notebook: Former Tennessee Stars Reflect Playing for Pat Summitt
Candace Parker, Glory Johnson and countless other University of Tennessee women’s basketball players have survived Pat Summitt’s legendary stare from her crystal-blue eyes – a steely gaze that could melt ice, make volcanos erupt and trees shake.
Using tough love, a sparkling spirit, passionate persistence and being dedicated her every player who has worm a Tennessee uniform, Summitt has inspired many and helped them thrive as professional basketball players, mothers, teachers, coaches and productive members of society.
What separated Summitt is she wasn’t afraid to discipline one of the best players to ever wear a Tennessee uniform. There was the time she benched Parker for an entire half for a much anticipated road game against DePaul, a game that was hyped as her homecoming. Tough love.
“I missed curfew,” admitted Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker Monday during a WNBA teleconference previewing their game against the Dallas Wings on Tuesday at 10 p.m. on ESPN2.
“She was put in a bind. Normally, when you missed curfew, you are suspended for an entire game. This game was different.
“She suspended me for the entire first half of the game. It was a lesson I learned. Both of us were being stubborn, but it enabled us to win a championship that year.”
Summitt announced in August of 2011 that she had early onset Alzheimer's disease. She coached the 2011-12 season before leaving the program.
Since being diagnosed, Summitt has played a leading role in Alzheimer’s advocacy, launching the Pat Summitt Foundation. The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic will also open at the University of Tennessee medical center at the end of the year.
Unfortunately, several sources indicated over the weekend that the disease has progressed and friends and family are "preparing for the worst."
Since news spread over the weekend of Summitt’s declining condition, many fans have left flowers and basketballs at her statue in Knoxville while countless others, including this reporter, have flooded social media with photos, well-wishes and touching stories.
“Outside of the Lady Vol family, everybody knows that she’s a legend who has touched lives and grown the game of basketball,” Parker said. “She changed the nature of women’s basketball. I am looking at it from a personal aspect, she changes the individuals. She changed the way I look at life. Everything she did was to make me a better individual.”
Summitt’s reputation on growing the game of women’s basketball is cemented. She distinguished herself with 1,098 victories, 16 Southeastern Conference (SEC) titles and eight national titles. However, that’s only a small part of her impact.
As a testament to her commitment to developing the total student-athlete, all 122 players under her watch who completed their eligibility at UT graduated.
Ten of her players earned a combined 13 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors through the years, two were named CoSIDA Academic All-American of the Year and one was selected to the CoSIDA All-Time Academic All-America Team.
Coaching has always been about people and relationships. She said a few years ago that you “win in life with people.”
The wins and national championships were just a bonus for Summitt, who always enjoyed teaching, holding babies, cooking her legendary jalapeno corn and dispensing life lessons along with a pinch of tough love.
“It's been emotional,” Johnson said. “When I go home and I sit and think about all of the stuff that Pat's done for me and all of the stuff that I went through at the University of Tennessee. I wouldn't go through that for anybody.
"I went there specifically for Pat because I knew that was the best thing for me in college and that's who I wanted to be coached by. I knew I wasn't going to be leaving and I was going to go through whatever I had to go through to play for that lady.”
Johnson had an opportunity to visit Summitt before training camp started in April.
“I saw Pat the day before I left for training camp,” Johnson said. “I took the babies to see her and (Summitt) held them in her arms. It was great seeing her awake and interacting with the babies. She knew exactly what to do when a baby is placed there and rocked them to sleep. I really appreciated it. I am glad that the babies were able to experience that.”
Following the Sparks’ 94-76 win over the Lynx Friday night, Parker visited Summitt in Knoxville. She chose to keep details of that visit private out of respect for the wishes of Summitt’s family.
“I was able to play against (the Connecticut Sun's) Shekinna Strickland (Sunday afternoon), Parker said. “We just gave each other a hug and were like, 'We're praying for coach and praying for the family.'
"Obviously, I spoke to Catch (former Lady Vol and Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings) and to Vicki Baugh along with just past and present Lady Vols just being there for each other. That's what we are. We're a family. That's what coach wants. She wants us to be there to lean on each other. That’s the biggest thing she’s done for us is created family.”
Johnson did mention one regret she had.
“My favorite memory was when we had a team meal at her house and Pat would make her spicy jalapeno corn,” Johnson said. “I never tried it because I didn’t like spicy food.
"Then my senior year, I finally tried it. It was absolutely amazing. I missed out on that experience because I didn’t want to try it.
"I love that jalapeno corn. I haven’t tried making it myself because I don’t want to embarrass myself. Nobody could imitate it no matter how hard we tried.”
Summitt’s accomplishments transcend statistics. Words don’t do her legacy proper justice.
Instead of using the world as a place to live in; Summitt used it as a giant canvas to create change, open minds and breakthrough barriers. With an enthusiasm for life, Summitt was a courageous pioneer who made a difference.
In addition to teaching life lessons on a consistent basis to her student-athletes, what has made her a treasure of excellence is her resolute and unflinching strength in the face of adversity.
“She doesn’t just talk the talk; she walks the walk,” Parker said. “She does exactly what she says she’s going to do. She’s been exactly how she lived -- and that’s strong. We need to be strong now. My thoughts and prayers are definitely with the Lady Vol family, with (her son) Tyler and with coach Summitt. She means a lot to a lot of different people.”
Big Week For Delle Donne and Cloud
Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud had memorable performances on Friday night in setbacks.
Delle Donne, the Ursuline Academy graduate out of Wilmington, Del., dropped a game-high 31 points in a tough 80-79 road loss to the New York Liberty. Shewas 10-of-17 from the field and 5-of-7 from 3-point range.
A Broomall native and Saint Joseph’s graduate, Cloud scored a career-high 18 points in a 91-79 loss to the Phoenix Mercury.She was 6-of-11 from the field and 5-of-7 coming from three-point range.
“It's kind of a catch 22,” Cloud said. “Those 18 points don't mean anything if we don't get a win. My teammates found me when I was open and I shot. We are just going to continue doing what we do offensively. I'm going to shoot if I'm open and if not I'm going to draw the defense in and kick it.”
Three-time WNBA Champion, three-time Olympic gold medalist, seven-time WNBA All-Star and five-time WNBA scoring champion, Diana Taurasi, added another achievement to her already storied career, becoming just the third player in WNBA history to reach the 7,000-point mark, joining Tina Thompson (retired) and Tamika Catchings (active), Friday night during the Mercury’s victory over the Mystics at the Verizon Center.
“Considering two other people have done it, I think it's pretty special,” Taurasi said. “I just feel lucky to be on really good teams with some really great teammates and coaches. You don't score that many points by yourself.
" I've been lucky to be on one team my whole career, I've been lucky to be around Penny [Taylor], DB [DeWanna Bonner], even the people that were here way before us. They kind of gave me that platform to be able to do it. It's pretty special, now that I think about it.”
Even more impressive, by doing so tonight in Washington in only her 348th career game, Taurasi became by far the fastest player in league history to the 7,000-career point barrier (Thompson-460 games, Catchings-428 games). Taurasi’s 7,000th-career point came on a 30-foot three-pointer with 1:09 remaining in the third quarter.
Now at 7,030 career points, Taurasi sits just 458 points shy of surpassing Tina Thompson (7,488) to become the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history. At her current 2016 scoring rate, she could potentially pass Thompson early in 2017.
Remember when the Mystics started the season by dropping their first five home games? Those are a distant memory now as Washington has won three of four during a five-game homestand that concludes Wednesday morning against San Antonio.
Washington rode Emma Meesseman’s sterling 20-point effort to a surprisingly easy 87-63 victory over the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday afternoon.
Meesseman was 9-of-12 shooting. Continuing her awesome season, Tayler Hill, who is a strong candidate for the league’s Most Improved Award, added 17 points, five assists and four steals. Tianna Hawkins had 11 points, including three 3-pointers, for Washington (8-8).
The Mystics have won four of their last five games. They never trailed and sprinted to a 33-13 lead after the opening 10 minutes, marking the second largest scoring margin the Lynx had ever faced after one quarter.
“We knew that we could beat them,” Meesseman said. “They didn't change a lot from last year and we beat them twice. We knew before the game that we definitely can beat them because of the last game and it feels great now knowing that we can beat that kind of team. It's difficult to explain because we know we could beat everybody in this league easily if we just play our game. It's something that's really hard to do but when we do its great.”
Meanwhile, Hill’s improved play is being noticed as Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had some great things to say about her following the game.
“I'm not on the inside, so I don't know if I can really answer with great justice, but obviously she's kind of grown into a comfort level in this league after kind of a slower start,” Reeve said.
“I think the off-season that she had, just from talking to [Washington head coach] Mike [Thibault], he felt really good about her direction.
" Again, I'm not on the inside, but I suspect she works really hard. She's a challenge on both ends of the floor. She's somebody that's worked really hard to be able to shoot it and because you can shoot it, you get people in the position where they're out of position. She attacks the rim really well. I'll give her a lot of credit. I think she really found her way in this league and she's become a very good player.”