Dee Hunt, who is in her 30th year as a professor at Gardner-Webb, was the coach for just one year at Middle Tennessee in the 1974-75 season – Pat Summitt's first at Tennessee – but she became the first link on the win chain that has reached 999 games.
The chance for No. 1,000 comes tonight when No. 12/17 Tennessee (16-5, 5-2) squares off against Georgia (15-7, 5-2) at 7 p.m. Eastern (Lady Vol Radio Network; TV: FSN) at Thompson-Boling Arena. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. to accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd.
Summitt has spent the past few weeks downplaying the accomplishment and trying to avoid talking about herself, but she emphatically declared Wednesday that the record 1,000 game should come in Knoxville.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Summitt said. "All along I've said I hope this happens in Thompson-Boling Arena because we have the most passionate fans in the history of the game in my opinion. What we've been able to do in terms of fans not only coming here and giving us obviously the program that's had the most success not only on the court but in the stands – our fans are just tremendous. And they travel everywhere.
"So absolutely (win number) 880 and the court being named here, to me, 1,000 would be a way of saying thank you to the fans, to all the coaches, the former players, the administration."
Hunt was going to try to be in attendance Thursday if she could work out the travel logistics, but if not she intended to watch on television.
"I would love to be there," Hunt said Wednesday in a phone interview from Boiling Springs, N.C.
Hunt is a native of Alabama and an Auburn graduate – and loyal fan – but after living in the state of Tennessee for nearly 10 years she also became a Lady Vol fan and has followed the basketball program ever since.
"Oh, certainly, Lord, yes," said Hunt, who described her friends in Tennessee as "diehard fans."
"I grew up in Alabama, and you had two choices," Hunt said. "I chose to go to Auburn, so I'm an avid Auburn fan. If UT were playing Auburn it would be tough for me."
Hunt had been teaching at East Tennessee State University when she decided to get her doctoral degree from Middle Tennessee. She took a leave of absence from her job and enrolled in Murfreesboro. The school happened to need a women's basketball coach that same year.
"They didn't have anybody to coach that particular year and at that point paying for that degree was a chore because I was on leave so I said, ‘OK, I'll do it,' " Hunt said. "They approached me about doing it because I was a little bit older and had some administrative experience and I had coached volleyball one year at East Tennessee State.
"I wasn't real basketball savvy so I just went out and got me a good book and got me a great assistant coach and just went from there. That's how it all came about."
Summitt lost her first game as a head coach to Mercer, 84-83, on Dec. 7. 1974, and then had to wait a month for the next game because of the Christmas break. That second opponent was Hunt's team, and the game was held in Alumni Gym on Jan. 10, 1975. Fifty-three spectators witnessed the event.
"I remember driving a white van full of kids," Hunt said. "I remember having a tough time finding the old gym. I remember not many fans, but I was used to that in those days. I remember she had a lead at halftime. I remember going in at halftime to talk to my girls and typical motivation while in my heart of hearts I knew she had athletes better than my team. I remember the end of the game shaking hands and I remember driving back – totally unaware that this would be the beginning of where her career is now."
Tennessee won that game, 69-32, and Summitt's record-breaking career of victories was officially underway.
"I remember very little," Summitt said. "The only team I saw play was the one in orange – you're talking about no vision as a coach. I was trying to learn offenses and defenses, but when we started playing I only saw our team.
"We didn't have game tape. It was more a guessing game. I remember thinking how nervous I was. I also remember going in to help Doug Pease, who was the janitor. I helped him set up the chairs and the scoreboard. He was my right-hand person."
Hunt completed her coaching season, finished her advanced degree work in 1976 and returned to ETSU. In 1978 she accepted a position at Gardner-Webb.
"I was hired as a professor," Hunt said. "Again, they needed someone and I coached volleyball and softball. This was in the early days. I'm old enough to have come through the AIAW days and our transition to where the women's games are now."
There were no coaching searches in those days that extended past the campus borders. Hunt was selected because she was willing to fill a need and had some experience.
In 1988, Hunt opted to focus solely on teaching. The long van rides for away games followed by 8 a.m. classes left Hunt realizing that she couldn't totally devote herself to both endeavors.
"I couldn't teach a full load," Hunt said. "The level of expectations for women's sports started its acceleration. We were able to hire full-time coaches."
Hunt focused on physical education, sport studies and the methodology of teaching.
"I teach kids how to teach," Hunt said.
In that way Hunt remains a coach, which is, in essence, a teacher's position, too. She will forever be bracketed with history as when Summitt's final career total is reached one day Hunt will be one book end of that number.
"I don't like to lose," Hunt said, sounding like Summitt, "but this is the first loss that is kind of palatable to me. I can handle this one because it's a great honor. It's a great honor to be associated with the ride that she's on and the accomplishments that she's done. The things that she's meant to people, not just her coaching, I have a lot of respect for her."
FILM STUDY: The Lady Vol players did the scouting report for the Georgia game because Pat Summitt was peeved with her team for disregarding the information compiled by Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick before the Oklahoma game.
The team presented its report to the coaches before practice Wednesday in a locker room film session.
"I thought it was good for them to understand the time that we invest in the scouting report – it's like giving them the cheat sheet for a test; you've got all the answers," Summitt said.
"And then the (Oklahoma) game starts and I'm like, ‘What are we doing?' If we're supposed to be trapping, then we've got to trap. If we're Velcro-ing (sticking tightly to the opposing player without relying on help defense or switches) or we're switching or whatever, we've got to see that they are committed to our scouting report defense."
Sophomore guard Angie Bjorklund said the players enjoyed the process – and learned a lot along the way.
"We all got together after weights," Bjorklund said. "We started it right away and it does take a while. That's for sure. They gave us a couple of (Georgia) games (to break down). I was surprisingly more into it than I thought I'd be. I was like, ‘Man, I could do this for a living possibility.' Maybe I should think about coaching. I was enjoying it."
That makes it twice that Bjorklund has enjoyed some of Summitt's motivation methods this season. The team had to launder its own practice gear for a week after the loss to Vanderbilt last month, and Bjorklund declared that to be a pleasant experience, too.
"I know. I'm weird," Bjorklund said. "I enjoy it. It was an opportunity to serve my teammates."
The scouting assignment also turned out to be a learning experience.
"It was good for our team to see what the coaches do and also because we're all visual learners and just to sit there and talk as a team like, ‘OK, we can do this on that girl,' and that type of thing and, ‘We need to make sure of no threes from the shooters,' " Bjorklund said.
Freshman forwards Alyssia Brewer and Alicia Manning decided to use the computers at the Thornton Center – the student-athletes' academic support facility – to make the report look like the one the coaches present to them.
"Lyssi and Alicia, they have to get their (mandatory for freshmen) Thornton hours so they said, ‘OK, we'll make it pretty on the computer,' " Bjorklund said. "They made it to look exactly like what our scouting reports look like, which is a set format. They're real detailed. I thought they were just going to type it up.
"Lyssi got the pictures. They completely made it all professional. Lyssi is pretty good at that computer stuff. They did the fancy stuff. We're all pumped about it. We're excited to show the coaches. We're proud of our work."
So what did the coaches think?
"They did very well," Warlick said. "They were very serious about it because they knew how unhappy we all were, especially me. I was pretty upset about it."
"I thought it was good," Summitt said with a smile.
So they took it seriously?
"Well, yes," Summitt said with incredulity.
That's not always a given with such a young team.
"That's true," Summitt said.
The intent was also to establish accountability – if the players have time invested in the report perhaps they will take more pride in their defense. Bjorklund believes that lesson was absorbed.
"For sure, just to appreciate what they have to do every game," Bjorklund said. "It's kind of like, ‘Do it yourself and see what it's like and how much work we put into it,' and I think for me personally it was eye-opening to what they do do, and how much effort they do put into it. And, again, it was good for us because visually we broke that down.
"I think the fact we did it as a team was good for us. As much as we can get together as a team and talk about what we need to do, I think that helps us mentally. It is time-consuming, but it was good for us. We need to be on the same page more on the court and a lot of times, especially on defense, we're not on the same page. Offense, too, actually. That gives us a chance, ‘This is what we need to do; we need to be on the same page.' "
999 AND COUNTING: The players are anxious to roll the victory total to 1,000 and know the milestone would be sweeter to notch at home.
"Oh my gosh, so bad," Bjorklund said. "Just for Coach. I'm sure it's going to be full of people here. For the fans and Coach Summitt and all the coaching staff and all the hard work that she's put into this she deserves it here and on her court."
Summitt just wants the win over Georgia. But that also means No. 1,000 is in the record books. Multiple basketballs will be used in the game – as was the procedure at Oklahoma – to ensure there are enough game-used ones to handle requests from the halls of fame and Tennessee and to present one to the coach.
"If we win, it's a win-win," Summitt said.
It may seem to Summitt and Debby Jennings, her media relations chief, that they have handled interviews and request for information and photos to match the coach's total number of victories.
Holly Warlick laughed about that observation.
"We don't even talk about it; Pat and I don't talk about it," said Warlick, who has been on the staff with Summitt since 1985. "We don't talk about it with our kids. I think that's been great. It's to the point now where it needs to get done. It's a little bit of a distraction in its underlying way. I don't know what else they can ask. They've seen her baby pictures. They know she shot basketball in a barn."
Andy Landers, the opposing coach in tonight's game, is a Tennessee native raised in Louisville in Blount County. Summitt is also a native of the state, born in Henrietta and now lives in Blount County. Landers sent Summitt a text message the day before the Oklahoma game.
"I was sitting there having dinner, and I looked down and (Women's Athletics Director) Joan Cronan and my staff was with me and we just started dying laughing," Summitt said. "Well, basically, he was pulling for us to beat Oklahoma. I'm not sure of his exact words but it was obvious that he wanted us to win that game. He didn't want to have to deal with it."
Summitt shared the story during her Wednesday teleconference with the media and scrolled through her text messages until she found the one from Landers.
"I did find Andy's text message," Summitt said near the end of the teleconference. "He said, ‘If you don't win tomorrow … I'm gonna be PO'd.' So he's coming in here mad. Both coaches are from Blount County, look out."
Summitt and Landers did not always have such a friendly relationship, but time has softened the hard edges.
"There's one thing, in our younger days it was so competitive that I'm not sure we were as cordial but with so many years behind us and so many games that we've played I guess we had to learn to keep things in perspective," Summitt said. "I thought that was really neat."
Summitt's Olympic coach and mentor, Billie Moore, will be in town for the game. Summitt's mother, Hazel Head, won't be able to travel for this game, so Summitt's younger sister's Linda, will watch on television with their mother. Summitt's older brothers, Tommy and Kenneth, will be in attendance. Also, Summitt's sorority sisters from UT-Martin will be in the arena.
"They'll be a bunch of them coming. Actually two of them were behind the bench at Oklahoma," said Summitt, who kept seeing them when she watched the game film later.
Angie Bjorklund isn't worried about the team being too energized to settle down and play. In fact she thinks the fervor from the crowd will help the team.
"I think we need to get fired up and fight on every possession," Bjorklund said. "It's going to be an exciting game. It's going to be a great environment and a great team to play it against."
TEAM REACTION: Vicki Baugh, who is out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the loss to Oklahoma, was on the sidelines for Wednesday's practice and did some rehab exercises.
Fellow sophomore Angie Bjorklund said the team was crushed by the news.
"If a teammate ever goes down with an injury like that it's heart-breaking," Bjorklund said. "I've had a small knee injury and that was tough to go through. I can't imagine going through an ACL twice. She was pretty upset, but she knows that the whole team was there behind her, sending her texts and being there for her and ‘All right, anything you need, we're here for you, Vick.' She's going to get through it."
Bjorklund also knows that words don't alleviate the pain for Baugh, and the team will try to show their commitment on the court.
"You can only say so much," Bjorklund said. "It's a hard situation. In your head you're going, ‘Oh my gosh, another time?' Vicki is a strong person, though, and I have no doubt she's going to get through this just fine. It's going to be hard on her at first, but you can learn a ton through injuries and she'll come back from this for sure. I think, as teammates, you just keep encouraging her and keep reminding her that you're going to get through this. That would help me, and I hope it helps her, too."
PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 freshman guard, No. 40 (14.2 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 3.0 assists per game); Angie Bjorklund, 6'0 sophomore guard, No. 5 (11.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Alicia Manning, 6'1 freshman guard/forward, No. 15 (4.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 25 (11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg); and Alex Fuller, 6'3 senior forward/center, No. 2 (7.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg).
Tennessee will have just nine available players for the game. Freshman forward Amber Gray is not expected to play Thursday because of illness. She was not able to practice Wednesday. Cait McMahan's season ended a month ago because of chronic knee pain. Vicki Baugh is out for the season with a torn ACL.
"We start the season thinking how are we going to keep all these people happy? And now, we're down to nine," Summitt said. "That's part of the game. Unfortunately injuries are a part of the game."
Georgia Coach Andy Landers is expected to start: Ashley Houts, 5'6 junior guard, No. 1 (12.0 ppg, 4.8 apg), hails from Trenton, Ga., averages 36.7 minutes per game and 39.9 minutes in SEC play, has played the full 40 in 12 games this season, twice she has picked up her fourth foul with 16 minutes to play and stayed on the floor – she didn't foul out in one game and did with 25 seconds left in the other; Angela Puleo, 5'8 sophomore guard, No. 20 (8.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg), hails from Maryville, Tenn., set single-game, season and career scoring records at William Blount High School, was named to All-SEC Freshman Team, father Charlie Puleo was an MLB pitcher; Christy Marshall, 6'1 junior guard, No. 22 (7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), hails from Savannah, Ga., was SEC co-Sixth Woman of the Year as a freshman, made All-SEC Freshman Team that season, too, with Ashley Houts and Angel Robinson, the first time three players were chosen from one team; Porsha Phillips, 6'2 sophomore forward, No. 21 (10.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg), hails from Stone Mountain, Ga., playing this season after sitting out a year following transfer from LSU, reigning SEC Player of the Week, averaging 16 points and shooting 64.3 percent from the field over the last four games, had double-double – 18 points, 10 boards – against Mississippi State, brother Brandon Phillips is the second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, brother Patrick is in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim organization; and Angel Robinson, 6'5 junior forward, No. 33 (11.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg), hails from Marietta, Ga., shooting 54.7 percent from the field, missed the 2005-06 season to recover from ACL surgery, had 18 rebounds against Florida State last season,
Georgia is also down a player. On Jan. 22, Landers announced that sophomore Jasmine Lee, a 6'2 forward, had been dismissed from the program.
"Coaching her had become a drain," Landers bluntly said in Georgia's game notes.
SCOUTING REPORT: Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick did supplement the players' scouting report on the Tennessee-Georgia game.
"They did the scouting report on Georgia," Warlick said. "I just backed it up."
Here is her assessment.
When Georgia has the ball: "They're an inside-out team like us," Warlick said. "They have a lot of similarities to us I think. The post players are playing real well. They want to go high-low quite a bit, and they do it very well. Those two (Porsha Phillips and Angel Robinson) play very well together.
"They have an excellent point guard (Ashley Houts) – runs the floor, shoots the ball well, good passer, smart on defense, has knowledge of the game. She's just a true point guard, and they've done well."
Georgia had some early seasons struggles and then started 1-2 to open SEC play, but the Lady Bulldogs seem to have found their stride. They have won four straight games, including league wins over Auburn and Vanderbilt, which both beat Tennessee.
"I think they just had to come into their own, playing together and they're peaking at the right time," Warlick said.
Defensively, Georgia will show different looks.
"I've seen a lot of their two-three matchup," Warlick said. "I've seen them pressing. I anticipate him running a little bit more zone on us."
When Tennessee has the ball: "Inside-out," Warlick said. "We would like to get fast break points and that starts with turnovers so we would like to get turnovers into fast break points."
That also means Tennessee must stop turning the ball loose so often on its end. The Lady Vols had 24 turnovers against Oklahoma.
Angie Bjorklund said the importance of ball security was apparent after the team watched film for its scouting report.
"It'll be another good test against Georgia because when we were watching film (Tuesday) night those guards like to get out," Bjorklund said. "Even out of their zone they're out denying and putting ball pressure on so the guards definitely need to pick it up.
"I think a lot of it is composure, too. A lot of times when they (Oklahoma) were making a run – myself included, which I'm supposed to bring the composure as a veteran – I would get overanxious with the crowd, your adrenaline's rushing, all those things and you come down and try to force a pass or you come down and try to force a shot or throw it away. I think it's taking a step back and doing the little things – I need a (specific) cut, I need to be strong with the ball, I need to dribble hard, not cross over in front of me – so I think just keeping your composure on offense it's going to be key."
Defensively, the Lady Vols have their zone handy, but they want to establish a man defense.
"That's just our bread and butter, and that's what we're going to start with," Warlick said. "We're going to go man to man."
Warlick was patient and methodical at practice Wednesday as she went over the scouting report, but she was anything but during the Oklahoma game, as she watched the players completely ignore what they had been taught in advance of the game. Pat Summitt was so upset that it led to her decision to make the players do a scouting report.
"I wasn't very happy," Warlick said. "I was pretty upset. When you know somebody shoots the three ball and we know how they're going to get open, it's frustrating. We did things that we didn't practice.
"And then when you keep turning the ball over that's a missed opportunity for a shot. We may get lucky and one falls in but when you turn it over it's not even going to get a chance. We keep shooting ourselves in the foot."
Warlick's instructions to the team Wednesday were to not look at the score – just play possession-by-possession basketball. She has noticed that when the team looks up and sees a lead it tends to let up.
"I don't want them to even look up at the scoreboard. We tend to look up at the scoreboard and go, ‘Wow, we're up,' " Warlick said. "It has a relaxing effect. Instead of a killer instinct and let's put them away, we relax."
ON TAP: All 12 SEC teams are in action tonight. The other matchups are: Florida at Alabama; Arkansas at LSU; Ole Miss at Auburn; South Carolina at Kentucky; and Vanderbilt at Mississippi State.
ODDS AND ENDS: Tennessee leads the series with Georgia, 39-14. The Lady Bulldogs last win came March 6, 2004, in the SEC tourney in a 68-66 overtime victory. The Lady Vols lost in Athens, 78-51, on Jan. 17, 2000. Georgia last won in Knoxville, 94-93 in overtime, on Dec. 8, 1996. … Tennessee is 10-2 in games played on February 5. The last win on this date was against Georgia, 73-57, in Knoxville in 2007. The two losses on this date were to Mississippi, 68-54, in 1986, and to Connecticut, 81-67, in 2004. … Tennessee is the only SEC school with a winning record over Georgia. Andy Landers has all 14 of Georgia's wins over Tennessee, giving him more wins against the Lady Vols than any other coach. Louisiana Tech has the most wins over Tennessee with 17. Connecticut has 13 and Texas has 12. … Georgia and Tennessee are two of only four NCAA Division I women's basketball programs to post winning records during each of the past 26 seasons since the sport came under the auspices of the NCAA in 1981-82. The other two schools are Louisiana Tech and Wisconsin-Green Bay. … Georgia guard Angela Puleo, a native of East Tennessee, has been riding a stationary bike instead of practicing because of a stress reaction in her lower right leg. Athletic trainer Shannon Becker estimates that from Dec. 31, 2008, when Puleo began biking, through Feb. 3, 2009, Puleo has logged 428.5 miles. That is the equivalent of pedaling from Stegeman Coliseum in Athens to Thompson-Boling Arena and back – she'd be within 42 miles or so of campus on the return trip. … Andy Landers became the fifth NCAA Division I women's basketball coach to tally 800 wins when Georgia beat Savannah State on Jan. 15. The other four coaches to reach that number are Pat Summitt, who is going for No. 1,000 tonight, Jody Conradt, C. Vivian Stringer and Sylvia Hatchell. The NCAA doesn't count the 82 wins that Landers earned at Roane State Community College, but George has recognized them. "With all due respect, its seems odd that the NCAA allows Georgia – and every other women's basketball program – to count its wins and losses against junior college competition when the game was in an emerging state during the 1970s but won't recognize Landers' efforts in that same time frame," Georgia states in its game notes. … BY THE NUMBERS: Tennessee averages 72.2 points per game and allows 64.0. Georgia averages 65.3 and allows an SEC-low 53.6. The Lady Vols are shooting 40.9 percent overall, 33.9 percent from behind the arc and 68 percent from the free throw line. The Lady Bulldogs are shooting 42.8 percent overall, 29.6 percent from behind the arc and 67.3 percent from the line. Tennessee averages 43.7 rebounds per game with a +7.2 margin. Georgia averages 41.1 boards with a +6.5 margin. The Lady Vols average 12.7 assists and 17.4 turnovers a game. The Lady Bulldogs average 14.3 assists and 17.6 turnovers. Tennessee averages 9.0 steals and 4.6 blocks per game. Georgia averages 9.0 steals and 5.0 blocks a game.