Vicki Baugh at SEC Media Day
Summitt is always a popular draw at the SEC's annual fall media gathering but after the announcement last August that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, she made the throng that always surrounds Kentucky Coach John Calipari at this event look like a small gathering.
The media spilled over from Summitt's designated area with some standing on a nearby dais to get photos – longtime SEC observers said it was the largest crowd they had ever seen around one coach – while boom mikes were held above her head and cameras clicked and beeped.
Summitt was limited to 30 minutes in the general press room as the SEC rotates 24 coaches and 24 players among assorted media over a two-hour period for each school's men's and women's teams, and while she talked – with Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick by her side – a normally busy room fell mostly quiet at other tables as the media descended on one person. Summitt was the first to enter the room after the media had taken a lunch break, and the crowd got deeper as more press members realized she was present and scurried back to work.
Baugh watched from a few feet away and then took her turn fielding questions as media members drifted to the back of the pack and gravitated to the Lady Vol player. She spoke quietly at times so as not to disturb the bustle of activity taking place close by.
VICKI BAUGH VIDEO
Summitt's afternoon began with her stint with the general media – print, Internet, local TV – and then she sat down with SEC-TV, Sirius/XM radio, Fox Sports South, CSS, SEC Digital and ESPN to complete her two hours of media interviews.
Warlick accompanied Summitt to the event, as did Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss, as a show of support. Baugh handled the same lineup of media as Summitt did.
PAT SUMMITT, HOLLY WARLICK VIDEO
It was Warlick's first trip to an SEC Media Day, and she was impressed by the turnout for Summitt.
"I didn't expect that many people," Summitt said.
"I think it's a great tribute to Pat and what she's meant to this program," Warlick said. "You've got media everywhere. It shows you what she's done and the foundation that she has built. It's incredible and I was excited for Pat. If anybody deserves it, she does."
The accolades for Summitt were voiced at the morning and afternoon sessions by the SEC coaches.
SEC COACHES VIDEO
All 11 SEC coaches spoke about Pat Summitt's announcement and their reaction to it.
"I think Tennessee is so clearly the front-runner," Collen said. "They didn't go to a Final Four, and Tennessee is down, but you look back over the SEC and they just blew through the league. (Now), they're going to rally behind Pat."
Collen next cited LSU as the second most talented team in the SEC and now has the infusion of a new coach.
"I think Nikki will be a shot in the arm," Collen said.
His fifth team was Vanderbilt because he noted each season it seems to be the time to overlook the Commodores because of graduation losses, and then Melanie Balcomb puts another competitive team on the court.
Collen said he couldn't provide a forecast past those five teams.
"After that, it's wide open," he said.
Former Tennessee player and coach Nikki Caldwell is back in the SEC, this time as the head coach of LSU.
Caldwell was wearing her 2008 national title ring that Tennessee won in Tampa when she was an assistant coach for the Lady Vols. The eight diamonds made it impossible to miss on her hand.
Caldwell's 1991 national title ring – the one she earned as a player – is with her mother in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The 2007 one is put away – and needs to be repaired after she damaged one of the diamonds while pounding the court with her fist during a game.
Her current team has not yet seen the 2008 ring, which she doesn't wear that often.
"When it's time," said Caldwell, who added she intended to increase her number of rings.
NIKKI CALDWELL video
AND TENNESSEE SAID AMEN
The SEC coaches were peppered with questions Thursday about Pat Summitt, her revelation about having dementia and her decision to stay on the sideline.
Mississippi State Coach Sharon Fanning-Otis, who was a graduate assistant at Tennessee, likely spoke for the Lady Vols when she issued a friendly challenge to the media to focus on the court now instead of Summitt's medical file.
"She made this decision," Fanning-Otis said. "Let her coach. We don't want it to be a memorial for something that hasn't happened.
"When the ball is tossed, let's play the game."
When Melanie Balcomb was the head coach at Xavier, she beat Tennessee in the 2001 NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16.
"I was 1-0," Balcomb said. "I should have retired."
Immediately after that game, an intense Pat Summitt had a conversation with Balcomb. Later, Balcomb learned that speculation was that Summitt had chastised her in some way. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Balcomb revealed Thursday when the questions centered on her relationship with Summitt and reaction to the legendary coach's medical condition.
Balcomb said Summitt pulled her close so that she could lean in and talk and Balcomb's first thought was that Summitt was really tall.
"Everybody thought the worst," said Balcomb of that day when TV cameras zoomed in on the pair. "It was the opposite. She pulled me in close. It was all compliments about me and my team. It was just intense. Like she always is.
"She was intent on telling me that our kids deserved to win the game and outplayed them."
Before Summitt went public with her diagnosis, she and her staff called former players to tell them the news ahead of time. Holly Warlick also placed a call to Balcomb.
"That was something they didn't have to do," Balcomb said.
After that Xavier win, Balcomb was a candidate for the open position at Vanderbilt, and Summitt called the administration to recommend her.
"She helps people in the business get jobs that she respects," Balcomb said.
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell noted Summitt's willingness to help, too. She hired him to work at her basketball camps when he was a high school coach. That later turned into a graduate assistant position at Tennessee, which launched his collegiate career.
Mitchell said what he most remembered is that she gave him a voice despite his lowly staff position.
"She could have put me in a corner and said, ‘Don't open your mouth for a year,' and I would have been happy with that," Mitchell said.
"She carried the banner for women's basketball alone for so long."
Georgia Coach Andy Landers turns into a comedian at SEC Media Day. After finishing his turn at the dais, he suddenly appeared with the media interviewing Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell.
MATTHEW MITCHELL, ANDY LANDERS video
He also had the quip of the day when Landers realized his media room time overlapped with that of Kentucky Coach John Calipari – at any given time up to six coaches and/or players can be in the large room at one time – who always attracts a large press following, plus fans waiting in the downstairs lobby with items to be autographed.
"Ain't nothing like sharing a room with Calipari," Landers said as he took his seat and noticed Calipari holding court across the room. "He'll be jealous when everybody comes over here."
Landers was in Summitt's corner on Thursday and mentioned that he had called her on Wednesday evening. When asked what was discussed, Landers said he had offered to run interference if she needed and tell the media she didn't want to talk about her medical condition. Landers, knowing the media would ask the other coaches about it, also said he would not discuss it if that were her wish. Summitt gave the go-ahead, and Landers applauded her decision to keep coaching.
"I think it's a great decision," Landers said. "I've known Pat close to 40 years. I don't think Pat wants everyone to call her every day and ask how she is.
"She is on the front end of this this thing and hopefully she will be on the front end of this for the rest of her life."
Landers added that if Summitt had stepped down last summer, "we would have lost one of the game's best coaches."
He also pointed out Summitt is surrounded by veteran assistants and a support staff that has been with her for decades. Those people will monitor her condition.
"I think she's handled it beautifully," Landers said.
Landers shifted from supportive colleague back to comic when asked about the pending arrival of Texas A&M to the SEC and the return of Coach Gary Blair, who used to coach at Arkansas.
SEC Media Day for basketball is just that – a day. Landers said that could change.
"Media Day will have to be longer," Landers said. "Gary likes to hear himself talk and he's probably the only coach in America who talks slower than I do, so it's a problem."