Pat Summitt inundated with support

The support continues to pour in to Tennessee for Pat Summitt via phone calls, cards, emails, text messages and social media as the basketball coach's revelation that she is dealing with early onset dementia unleashed a torrent of reaction about the legendary sports figure.

The support has been overwhelming," said longtime media relations chief Debby Jennings. "It has absolutely been incredible."

Summitt's longtime secretary, Katy Wynn, told Jennings that the reaction was similar to when the Lady Vols win a national championship in terms of the outpouring of calls and emails.

"That was an outpouring of celebration," Jennings said. "This was an outpouring of love."

The Tennessee Lady Vols Facebook page has been inundated with posts of support for Pat Summitt that can be read HERE.

Former Lady Vol Amber Gray, who now plays for Xavier, contacted Inside Tennessee to express her support for Summitt. Gray suffered an aneurysm in July of 2009 after being hospitalized for shoulder surgery. The aneurysm, which had been lurking dormant for years, caused a stroke but because she was already in the hospital her life was saved.

After a year of recovery and rehab, Tennessee's medical staff didn't clear her to return to competition but the Ohio native's surgeon and physician are in Cincinnati, and Gray transferred to Xavier to play where she would be both close to home and specialized medical care.

Gray told Inside Tennessee that since she was a Division I athlete she wasn't certain if she could contact Summitt directly (the NCAA has rules about contact with athletes enrolled at other schools) so she asked to make a public statement of support.

"I was kind of shocked and wanted to reach out to her and tell her that I am praying for her and thinking of her," said Gray, who intended to ask her current coaches and Xavier's compliance department if it would be OK for her to make contact with Summitt. "Hopefully she knows and it gets to her."

Gray entered Tennessee in the fall of 2008 with five other freshmen, Shekinna Stricklen, Glory Johnson, Alyssia Brewer, Briana Bass and Alicia Manning, who are all now entering their senior season. (Gray has two years of eligibility remaining as she played one season at Tennessee and one at Xavier.)

It is a class that has endured a lot with the near-death of Gray and then a few months later, the news that then-Assistant Coach Daedra Charles-Furlow, now the director of character development, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

This week they learned that Summitt, about to enter her 38th year at Tennessee, was dealing with early onset dementia and facing an uncertain future.

"It didn't do anything but bring us all closer," Gray said. "I am so close to all of them. I talk to Strick almost every day. That is still like my sister, and everybody still contacts me. I've been down to Knoxville. We are still very close and always will be. It makes everything a lot easier when you are more of a family."

Gray said her comeback remains on track and she is getting stronger. One of the keys was to restore the strength in her left leg, which was weakened by the stroke.

"I have been in the gym all summer working to get back in shape and working to get my leg back to where it was," Gray said. "I have been working hard with the training staff, and the coaches are very supportive of everything that I have to do. I am doing really well."

Gray said her first allegiance is to Xavier, but she wants to see Summitt add to her tally of national titles.

"Obviously I want to win a national championship here at Xavier so if it comes to it and it's down to Tennessee and Xavier, I am going to do what I have to do to win, but who wouldn't want to see one of the best coaches in NCAA history win another championship," Gray said.

"I have nothing but positive and great things to say about Coach Summitt and I wish her the best of luck with everything that she is going through right now on and off the court, just like she wished me the best of luck before I left."

Former Lady Vols have been featured extensively across the country in various news outlets to discuss Summitt, her impact on them and her fight going forward.

The WNBA set up a page where former Lady Vols expressed their thoughts such as Tamika Catchings saying: "I'm definitely shocked to hear the news, but knowing Pat she will get through this, and WE will all stand by her side through this. She'll face yet another obstacle with determination and will power to live life to the fullest!"

The remarks can be read HERE.

Former Lady Vols Cindy Brogdon and Kelley Cain were interviewed by an Atlanta television station, which can be viewed HERE.

Former Lady Vol Michelle Marciniak wrote a first-person piece for SI.com, which can be read HERE.

Summitt and former Vols football coach Phillip Fulmer are close friends – they helped each other recruit with his top targets always wanting to meet Summitt – and ESPN interviewed Fulmer, which can be read HERE.

ESPN commentator Carolyn Peck, a Tennessee native and former Vanderbilt player, also is a close friend of Summitt's. Peck served as an assistant coach at Tennessee from 1993 to 1995. Her remarks can be heard HERE.

Longtime Summitt antagonist Mike DeMauro, a columnist with The New London Day in Connecticut, set that aside and wrote a piercingly poignant piece that stated "because as we learn once again, life has this way of alerting us that it's too damn short to be petty" that can be read HERE.

USA Today national columnist Christine Brennan wrote that this fight might become Summitt's greatest legacy, which can be read HERE.

Educator Sue Favor, a blogger in California, also shared the impact that Summitt had on her life that can be read HERE.

A Facebook campaign is underway for people to wear orange on Friday in support of Summitt and went from a few hundred to nearly 30,000 participants overnight with worldwide pledges: WEAR ORANGE.

As of the wee hours Friday morning, the number of participants approached 40,000.

A sense of normalcy should be restored to the program next week when the players – who have been in conditioning sessions with Heather Mason – take the basketball court in groups for individual workouts with the staff. In years past, a lot of these on-court duties have been handled by the assistants with Summitt overseeing the action more as an observer, so that situation is likely to remain the same.

The freshmen learn the terminology and specific drills so they can mesh with the returning players when the team takes the court as a whole, and the veterans go through assorted offensive and defensive drills to emphasize positioning and footwork and also get in shooting repetitions.

"We're ready," said junior guard/forward Taber Spani, one of this year's designated captains, along with Manning and Johnson. "We've been in conditioning workouts and I think we're ready for the court.

"Obviously, we needed Shekinna and Glory to get back, and they wanted their bodies to rest and everybody to kind of get adjusted to the school year. But we're ready to go. We're excited about starting next week."

Johnson and Stricklen just returned late Monday evening from China, where they helped lead the USA team to a gold medal in the World University Games. The team was told Tuesday as a group about Summitt's diagnosis.

The team held another meeting Thursday where the players got their Lady Vol notebooks in anticipation of taking the court next week. Summitt participated in the meeting as always and spoke to the players about basketball.

"It's business as usual," Jennings said.

To say that the players will dedicate this season to Summitt is an understatement.

"Oh, totally, without question," Spani said. "We obviously are playing for the university, but we are going to play for Coach. We're going to cut down nets for her and as a team we're going to do it together. This is such an amazing supporting staff."

The team already was very close – Summitt has noted this team, especially the seniors, were one of the closest she had ever coached. The news brought them even closer and also caused them to draw on their faith, also a hallmark of this team.

"Immensely," Spani said. "We're going to be lifting her up in prayer, and we encourage everyone across the country to do the same. She has that mentality right now and she is doing everything head-on, and she just wants us to join with her."


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