Pat Summitt, coaches to debut in costume

Pat Summitt and her staff will make a guest appearance on the floor tonight during the Tennessee men's game against Florida, but they won't be there in any coaching capacity. In fact they will be in costume.

Exactly what they will do is a surprise, but it was Summitt's idea and she drafted her assistants to help.

The coaches will appear at the first media timeout of the Vols game, which is usually at about the 16-minute mark. The game will tip at 9 p.m. Eastern (ESPN). So if you're at home or at the arena and were thinking of a restroom break or a trip for some food, think again. Don't leave your seat or television set.

Coach Pat Summitt will be joined by Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick and Assistant Coaches Nikki Caldwell and Dean Lockwood. Speculation has centered on the fact that Summitt was a cheerleader in middle school in Cheatham County, but she is not tipping her hand.

"I'd say people would probably think it was a bit out of character," Summitt said. "Actually I came up with what I wanted to do, and I asked my staff to join in and help me."

The event, which is already drawing media attention in both print and broadcast outlets, is a reciprocal gesture for what Coach Bruce Pearl and some of his players and a manager did for the Lady Vols last January when Duke came to Knoxville. They painted their chests orange and added white G-O V-O-L-S lettering and cheered in front of the student section after descending through the students to get courtside.

Summitt is renowned for her stare, single focus, intensity and dogged determination. Her playful side – and her players speak of its existence – is not one folks are very used to seeing.

"No you're not," Summitt said with a smile.

Summitt had her team back at practice Monday – minus two players – to get some work in before the SEC Tournament starts later this week. Senior forward Sidney Spencer was under the weather and needed some rest, and freshman guard Cait McMahan needed some family time with her mother, who has been very ill.

Summitt used the time to work on offense since the Lady Vols aren't yet preparing for a specific opponent. Tennessee, the top seed in the tourney, will play Friday at 1 p.m. in Duluth, Ga., against the winner of Thursday's Auburn-South Carolina game.

"It was all offensive skill work," Summitt said. "We got some good stuff in. The practice guys were here so we shot with them on the court. We had defensive presence. Broke down a lot of our offensive schemes. We just shot. That was it."

Tennessee ran the table in the SEC to finish 14-0, and Summitt credited a renewed emphasis on defense and rebounding in February – "two places that I thought we really elevated our intensity. We wanted to get in a lot of shots (Monday). We've got to get our offensive game sharper and screening sharper."

Summitt watched the tape of Sunday's 73-53 win over Vanderbilt and once again came away impressed.

"It was a very physical game," Summitt said. "We certainly played very aggressive at both ends. We scored a lot in our early offense just by being aggressive."

She also was pleased with how the Lady Vols disrupted the Commodores in their offensive sets.

"In my opinion … not many people can beat them in that situation," Summitt said. "They are so efficient in running their offenses and getting good looks. That was one of our better defensive games of the year, but that's how much respect we had for Vanderbilt coming in.

"I'd watched enough tape on them to know. When I watched them against LSU and they were allowed to play in their quarter-court offense (baseline to top of the key) they were able to win."

Tennessee had some emphatic blocks in Sunday's game, none more eye-popping than the one Alexis Hornbuckle delivered to an unsuspecting Caroline Williams, who had gotten past Candace Parker in the lane but didn't see Hornbuckle on the back side.

"The block Alexis had!" Summitt said. "She was like somebody swatting a fly 40 yards.

"I told her if she finishes Candace's full-court move – she said ‘I was watching her' – I said you could have been on SportsCenter, you know? It fires the crowd up and the team up. Candace spiked one."

Hornbuckle's block was one to be savored by a player. She swatted the ball with her right hand and knocked the ball nearly to center court, where Shannon Bobbitt caught it like an outlet pass. Maybe Vandy's players became spectators, too, because Bobbitt broke for the basket and blew past two defenders for an easy layup.

Hornbuckle said the block was intentional, but depositing the ball right to Bobbitt wasn't planned.

"No, to be honest," Hornbuckle said. "I watched it on film twice and I said, ‘It looks like I just passed the ball to Shannon.' Obviously I didn't. I just wanted to block the girl's shot.

"I was like, ‘I'm either going to foul out or she's going to make the shot or I'm going to get a block.' And I got the block, and we scored. It looked planned, but, no, it definitely wasn't. I should have taken the credit and said, ‘Yeah, I saw her,' but I didn't."

Hornbuckle had four fouls at the time, but that thought didn't enter her mind.

"I thought I'm not going to give you an easy bucket," Hornbuckle said. "That's just my mindset whether I have four fouls or I have zero. I still try to play aggressive but play smart.

"I realized that she didn't see me at all. That was to my advantage. You just get real comfortable. I've done that before and got my shot swatted, too. You just go up real soft. She saw Candace, and she put it up high right by me. Gotta love the freebies."

Hornbuckle didn't at all love finishing the game without a steal. She thought she had one near the baseline but was called for a foul. Replays showed the pick was clean, but an official signaled for a hit to the other player's arm.

"They took away my steal right here," said Hornbuckle, whose streak of 64 consecutive games with at least one steal was ended. "It upset me but start all over. I had a game where I didn't get one steal so I've got to get more the next game. That's my mindset. Without fouling."

TOURNEY RECEPTION: Pat Summitt and Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan will be at the Gwinnett Center, 6500 Sugarloaf Parkway, in Duluth, Ga., in Salon 5 and 6 for a reception to tip off the 2007 SEC Tournament.

The reception begins at 5:15 p.m. and will conclude in time for fans to attend the second session of SEC Tournament games Thursday evening.

Cost is $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Admission for children under 12 is $18. Included will be hors d'oeuvres, and door prizes will be awarded throughout the event.

Reservations can be made by calling the Tennessee Alumni Association at 865-974-3011 or at

Prior to each Lady Vols tourney game, the Tennessee Alumni Association and the Women's Athletics Department will host the Big Orange Tailgate Tour-Lady Vols Edition at the Loafing Leprechaun, 6320 Sugarloaf Parkway, which is 2/10ths of a mile from the arena. Admission is free.

This will include a rally with the UT pep band, cheerleaders and Smokey. There will be complimentary refreshments and door prizes.

The times are: Friday, 10 a.m. to noon Eastern. If the team advances to play Saturday the times are 3:45 to 5:45 p.m. If Tennessee remains in the tourney Sunday, times are 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Kris Phillips at the Tennessee Alumni Association, 865-974-3011.

TAKING FLIGHT: The plane trip home from Baton Rouge last week after Tennessee clinched the SEC championship with a win over LSU was a festive affair. It also turned out to be a poignant one.

The team had a chartered plane for the trip home to Knoxville, and one of the crew members assigned to the flight had first encountered Pat Summitt in Ruston, Louisiana, in 1987.

"When I got on the plane, she just burst out in tears," Summitt said. "I was like, ‘Are you OK?' She said, ‘Coach, you just have no idea what you've meant in my life.' "

The coach tried to comfort Carmen Smith by telling her not to cry, but "when she started telling me the tears started running down my face," Summitt said. "I said, ‘Wait a minute. We're supposed to be happy. We just beat LSU on their home floor now Carmen.' "

It turned out that when Smith was 10 years old she was in a wheelchair at a Tennessee-Louisiana Tech game. She had been injured in a car accident involving a family member and had spent two years in critical care. Her grandparents had taken over her long-term care, and it included learning how to walk again and an arduous rehabilitation. After the game ended Summitt approached the young child.

"You just never know," Summitt said about reencounters years later. "The fact she was 10 years old when I went up to her, and she was in a wheelchair, and the game was over. We were at Louisiana Tech. How she recalled this was, ‘You just came over to me and said are you going to be all right?'

"She said, ‘You just made such an impression on my life, and I'll never forget what you said.' Basically I told her you can do anything that you want to do and you put your mind to doing.' "

Summitt had Smith share the story with the team. Turns out Smith, who is now 29 and a flight attendant, was also at the LSU-Tennessee game but had to leave before the game ended to get prepared for the team's chartered flight. She is a lifelong Lady Vols fan and attends nearly every game in person unless she has a work conflict.

"She said, ‘I had to leave with nine minutes to go,' " Summitt said. "I said, ‘You can watch the end of the game with me on the plane.' "

The encounter clearly had an emotional impact on Summitt.

"It touched my heart," Summitt said. "You just never know. You never know how you can impact the life of another person. Our student-athletes do that all the time. They're role models. To me it's important that they take time, that I take time and my staff takes time to meet and greet people. In that case I have a very soft heart for any young person that's living their life in a wheelchair. I'm sure that's probably why I went over to her."

Some 20 years later Smith was able to walk up to Summitt and tell her what that moment meant.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories