Nov. 22, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt always said one of the most important elements of success was to surround yourself with great people. Never was that on greater display than Friday morning as thousands of those great people surrounded her once again for the dedication of the Pat Summitt Plaza at the University of Tennessee.
Former players and staff members joined the current Lady Volunteer team and staff in lining the wall behind the plaza's centerpiece, a statue of college basketball's all-time winningest coach, for the ceremony. Fans crowded the streets at the corner of Lake Loudon Blvd and Phillip Fulmer Way to show their support and bask in another memorable moment in the Tennessee legend's career.
Summitt took to the podium to express her gratitude for the honor.
"This is a great day," Summit said. "I want everybody to know that, for me, today is not about me. It's about everyone out here that loves the University of Tennessee, and we hope and pray that we can continue to do good things. I want everyone to know just how much I appreciate what's happened here today and I will never forget it. I love you all."
Tamika Catchings represented the former players on the stage and reflected in her comments on the impact that Summitt had on her life. After the ceremony, she echoed the theme of family that ran throughout the comments from the day.
"We're using the hashtag now, once a Lady Vol, always a Lady Vol - and it's so true," Catchings said. "This is a family, from one of the first point guards to ever play for Pat, to the current players that are still here. The family that we've been able to develop underneath her and her tradition has been wonderful."
The ceremony drew every current Tennessee head coach as well as longtime Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan and former head football coach Phillip Fulmer. It also drew a familiar face from the opposite side of the court, longtime rival from the University of Texas, Jody Conradt.
Conradt, who coached the Longhorns from 1976-2007 knew Summitt as a player at Tennessee-Martin and the US National Team and later had many great battles on the court and on the recruiting trail, including seeing the Lady Vols win their first national championship on her home court in Austin in 1987. She said their friendship was stronger than any rivalry and that friendship was what brought her to Knoxville for the event.
"I think it's really appropriate that that statue is bigger than life because Pat's influence over our sport that we all love has been bigger than life," Conradt said. "When we all started coaching, and that's been a long time ago, we did it because we loved the sport and we wanted to create opportunities for young women to experience the same things we had the opportunity to experience. If you look at that now, that influence that Pat has had, she set such a high standard that all of us every day tried to get to that standard. I think that that legacy will live on forever. There has to be a start, and that start is Pat Summitt."
UT Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Dave Hart, who was credited for the idea of the plaza and statue by Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, said the day was all about the legacy and impact that she left on others.
"These women here today, your players, represent only a fraction of the women you've impacted in such a significant way," Hart said with a definite measure of emotion in his voice. "You were their coach, and they benefited from that immensely. But more than that, you were their mentor, and through that you shaped their lives, as you did to thousands of young men and women alike, who wanted to emulate everything you stood for, the standard of excellence you set and the way you demanded it in an uncompromising manner."
Tyler Summitt, in the keynote speech at the dedication, said the greatest joy his mother takes is when she sees something she taught help somebody else. She lit up this past weekend when he told her he had used a lesson from her in helping lead the Marquette women's basketball team, where he now is an assistant coach, to a win over Vanderbilt in Nashville. He hopes the plaza can help continue to make an impact and teach lessons to those who see it in the future.
"Because of today, every person that sees this can remember what she stands for. They will have a Pat Summitt teaching moment, and nothing could make my mom smile more."