Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pat Summitt Celebration of Life Service: Guru Observations and Reflections

By Mel Greenberg

For BlueStarMedia1 but written on the Guru's blog

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- So your Guru returns to his hotel room here in the Volunteer State after the service and then being part of the gathering in the Marriott afterwards and takes a look at the blog traffic graphics and sees over several thousand page views, traffic numbers not seen since the April weekend Lauren Hill, the Division III Mount St. Joseph's freshman near Cincinnati, died of a pediatric brain tumor.

Though for some reason, a chunk of referral sites are coming from a chunk of Ukraine, nevertheless the Guru, who has a late checkout anyhow, decided to make your visits here to the blog worthwhile.

So here goes:

First, any attempt to produce the complete details of the actual Pat Summitt Celebration of Life service in Thompson-Boling Arena Thursday night would only be a redundancy at best replicating the fine work done here by local journalist Maria M. Cornelius, a longtime veteran of Lady Vols coverage.

So here is the link to her play-by-play, so to speak, chronicle of a night that was orginally scheduled with a time frame of 7 p.m. To 9 p.m. but ended at 8:15, itself in the spirit of the legendary Hall of Fame Tennessee women's basketball coach, who usually got things doen quicker rather than later, and who died June 28 of complications of Alzheimer's disease.

After trying to guess the speakers and how it might go in advance of the event, we weren't close.

But to summarize the impression from who spoke, it was truly a personalized family event with the public and sports world individuals allowed to share.

It was representative, it was complete, it was closure and it went to mark in economy size wrappings.

If a draft was held for any format of the presentation here, those of spoke -- Pat Summitt's son Tyler, former players Shelley Sexton-Collier and Tamika Catchings, former assistants Mickie DeMoss and (now Lady Vols head coach) Holly Warlick, longtime friend and Tennessee/NFL football great Payton Manning -- would have all gone quickly at the top of the first round.

But adding people beyond the aforementioned group to a speakers list would have created agony in terms of those picked and those omitted.

Going through the period from arriving early afternoon Wednesday to right now in the wee hours, it felt like one of those mega-movies loaded with tons of celebrities, some of which are on the screen for a few seconds and others who happened to get significant minutes.

For example, at one point in the Marriott lobby, the Guru heard a familiar voice, turned and greeted Hall of Famer and former Texas coaching great Jody Conradt, then turned a bit afterwards and she vanished never to be seen again in the Guru sights.

On the other hand, a signifcant Philadelphia presence existed among Lafayette coach/former Immaculata star/Rutgers coach, etc. Theresa Grentz, aa Women's Basketball Hall of Famer; Hall of Famer and current Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who had to deal with plane problems, but got here as did Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw and herf staff; Chattanooga and former Saint Joseph's coach Jim Foster; Father Judge grad and Northwestern coach Joe McKeown; new Kennesaw State coach Agnus Berenato and her sister Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade; Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman; NCAA women's basketball executive Tina Krah, and UConn/USA coach Geno Auriemma. South Carolina coach/USA assistant Dawn Staley was in the house but she was at the pre-event reception held by the Southeastern Conference. 

In all, Danielle Donehew, the staff head of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), said that across the various categories of pre-event receptions (the guru was at the one for WBCA members and Women's Basketball Hall of Fame staff and inductees) 150 coaches made it here.

Others might have been but most just came off the close of the first recruiting period of the summer and needed to deal with catching up on family and work matters.

In welcoming the crowd, Donna Thomas, who is now the SWA of the athletic department following the retirement of Joan Cronan, noted she was Summitt's first basketball manager "and I never left."

The ESPN staff was here in force from executives such as women's programming chief Carol Stiff, most of the broadcast talent for women's games; Laura Gentile, founder of ESPNW; and other notables.

The NCAA delegation had Anucha Browne, vice president of women's basketball; Rick Nixon, the women's basketball tournament media liason; while Jim Tooley, CEO/Executive Director of USA Basketball was also here.

The referees had NCAA officials chief June Corteau and Patty Broderick among several others on hand.

In fact, the entire gathering reminded the Guru, who also heads women's interests for the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), inherently he was the organization rep among several hats, of a pasage he had wrote into his USBWA Pat Summitt Most Courageous award to Lauren Hill in November 2014 -- In special moments like these, the cateogires of those of us involved with this sport disappear -- media, referrees, players, coaches, evecutives become just one basketball family.

However, it must be noted that when the Guru went to the media room afterwards to rejoin his local photographer William Willbill Ewart and and also to help the Tennessee athletic department staff identify notables in their photos of the crowd, a glance around at those working in the room, thanks to the decline of newspapers, revealed it was not like the old days when marquee Lady Vols games were played and major markets from such places as Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Detroit, Miami, to name a few, would have a represenative here covering the event.

In one setting -- and we're not going to get into names the Guru was not totally in a journalistic role, per se, -- it was fascinating to listen former Lady Vols of different eras compare notes, talk about what they all can do to preserve Summitt's legacy moving forward, and some of them now from the coaching side, talking to those simply still just players; some of them whose life was miserable at the time dealing with Summitt's demands but who now say they eventually grew and appreciated the teough love.

The Guru spent time throwing some of his visionary events to honor Summitt and raise money for the foundation, the one for WNBA proposed on July 4th on this blog which is getting a strong reception; an d some college ideas.

Yes, before you ask; Geno was amenable to some ideas on the collegiate side but we will leave it at that for now; though the Guru got one door opened since he was told that if a collegiate event to honor Summitt were to be scheduled for mid-January or later, instead of the start of the season, enough time exists to get an NCAA allowance for it to be classified an extra event, thus removing the barriers to get teams picked without having the games count against their maximum limit.

During one conversation earlier in the day Sally Jenkins, the Washington Plost columnist and longtime friend of Summitt's relayed looking to the night's event, that it would be joyous.

Jenkins said that when Summitt's dad had died and they had gone to the funeral, it was a real uplifting occasion and Summitt said that she told her son Tyler and others in the inner circle that when her time came she would like the service to provide the same experience.

One could say in retrospect to her memorial service here Thursday night, Summitt had that wish granted.

-- Mel