Pat Summitt diagnosed with dementia

Pat Summitt, the legendary coach of Tennessee about to enter her 38th season at the helm, has been diagnosed with dementia but plans to coach this season and beyond.

The news reached the Internet early Tuesday afternoon and quickly went viral with major media markets reporting the news that the Hall of Fame coach had been diagnosed with dementia during a trip last May to the Mayo Clinic.

Pat Summitt and Tennessee will release a statement and video from the coach later this afternoon.

The school had tried to keep the news from breaking until Summitt had time to tell the current team as a group, and Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen just returned late Monday night from China, where they helped lead the USA to a gold medal at the World University Games.

Athletics Director Joan Cronan spoke to Inside Tennessee on Tuesday afternoon moments before the gathering with the current players.

"We're going in to tell the team right now," Cronan said. "Before she made a public statement she wanted to talk to the team. Pat Summitt is an icon. She stands for excellence. I think we are all devastated for her, but we also have a lot of faith in what she stands for and what she's going to do.

"My line to the world is, ‘Pat Summitt is our coach. We've got the greatest coaching staff in America, and we're going forward and our focus is exactly the same. We want to win championships. We want to make a difference in young people's lives. For Pat Summitt personally it's probably one of the biggest challenges she's ever had. It takes a lot of courage to be facing it the way that she is."

Cronan said she expected Summitt to coach this season and beyond.

"Not just this season," Cronan said. "She intends to coach basketball at the University of Tennessee. Nobody has a crystal ball."

Junior guard/forward Taber Spani said the team realized something big had happened regarding Summitt, but they learned about the specifics as a team during the meeting and what came through was Summitt's fighting spirit.

"It was very important to Pat and the whole coaching staff that they brought it directly to us, and so we had a team meeting, and she told us everything," Spani said. "Her fighting spirit came through so well, and she is truly an inspiration to us. The word of the day is Pat's fighting mentality and her ability to face this head on.

"We're going to be right there with her and rallying behind her."

The junior and senior classes on this current team have endured a lot during their tenure at Tennessee with the news in October of 2009 that a then-assistant coach had breast cancer and in the summer of 2009 former player Amber Gray nearly died from a brain aneurysm.

"What does athletics teach us?" Cronan said. "It teaches us perseverance. It teaches us hard work. It teaches us determination. All of the things that Pat Summitt stands for, she's carrying it through in this situation."

Summitt, who had experienced health issues in the past because of arthritis, sought additional medical treatment in the off-season.

Pat came to us with concerns about her health and our preliminary evaluation was suggestive of dementia," said Dr. Amy Bentley of Internal Medicine Associates in Knoxville. "Because of her young age, Pat was referred to neurology for formal evaluation. After extensive testing, a diagnosis of early Alzheimer's was made and appropriate treatment was initiated."

Summitt's son, Tyler Summitt, a junior at Tennessee and walk-on basketball player for the Vols, also released a statement.

"Pat Summitt is not only my mom, but also an incredible role model and mentor for me. It seems like she teaches me something new every day, 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.

"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. We both appreciate the continued support of the Lady Vol family. Our faith is in the Lord and we trust that God has a plan for us. Looking forward, nobody is as ready for the 2011-12 basketball season to start as much as the Summitt family. God Bless."

Summitt has an overall record of 1,071-199 and first began her career at Tennessee in 1974.

"I plan to continue to be your coach," Summitt said in a video statement. " ... I will be relying on my outstanding coaching staff like never before. We've always collaborated on every facet of Lady Vol basketball. And now you will see Holly Warlick, Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood taking on more responsibility as their duties are changing significantly.

"I love being your coach and the privilege to go to work every day with our outstanding Lady Vol basketball student-athletes. I appreciate the complete support of UT Chancellor Dr. Jimmy Cheek and UT Athletics Director Joan Cronan to continue coaching at the University of Tennessee as long as the good Lord is willing.

"I've been honest and I've shared my health concerns with you and now will move forward to the business at hand coaching a great group of Lady Vols. For the time being I hope you will respect my privacy regarding this matter."

The complete video statement from Summitt is available to view at the Lady Vols website.

"This is just another way that Pat Summitt shows how she is very special and how she is facing this," Cronan said. "I think it shows character. I think it shows courage. And if anybody can fight this disease she can.

"She's facing a challenge, and she is going to face it head-on."

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