Tennessee, UCLA coaches team up

Holly Warlick was at the b3 – basketball, bikes, breast cancer – event that she was co-hosting 20 minutes early at the downtown Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Her counterpart, Nikki Caldwell, despite the fact she was staying at a hotel next door, was 15 minutes late. Hollywood time? No, Warlick said. Head coach time.

"She's now got the head coaching syndrome," Holly Warlick said as Nikki Caldwell mingled with guests that Warlick had already greeted and thanked for coming. "She doesn't need to be on time. She can stroll in when she wants. She's now a typical head coach. She's fitting that mold real nicely."

Warlick was smiling as she talked – and she later made her remarks to the group as a whole as Caldwell and Pat Summitt laughed.

The two colleagues and close friends shared hugs and laughs with dozens of people Friday evening at the silent auction and fund-raiser for Champions for a Cause.

"Outside of Nikki and I working together we formed a great friendship and became really, really good friends," Warlick said. "I think it was difficult for her to leave for both of us. We spent a lot of time in the summer together, we do our bike trip, we go on vacation together, so it is always great to see her. I miss her a lot."

They raised thousands of dollars through ticket sales for the event and the auction of donated items ranging from UCLA and Tennessee basketball gear to basketballs autographed by Summitt to spa treatments to a suite at a 2010 Smokies baseball game to a big screen television to a Summitt-autographed orange guitar.

An orange Lady Vol guitar autographed by Pat Summitt was one auction item. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Other items were UCLA gear and an autographed Wheaties box plus Lady Vol season tickets.(Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Another item included a bag full of Lady Vol attire, including official adidas shoes with the Lady Vol logo. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

"When we were first talking about it with our Champions for a Cause board we decided that it's a great way for us to tap into the fact that we're going to have UCLA and UT fans here," said Caldwell, who flew into Knoxville on Thursday with about 150 donors and the UCLA administration. "We thought what better way to kick off the game, especially here at the Hall of Fame."

The Friday evening event preceded Saturday's football game at Neyland Stadium between Tennessee and UCLA.

"We did our other b3 event in the spring, and really this is a little closer (to that one) than what we would like, but we wanted to tie it in with UCLA," Warlick said. "I'm excited that she's here. It worked out perfectly."

Legendary radio broadcaster Bobby Denton, also known as the Voice of Neyland Stadium – he has retired from WIVK radio but still handles the public address duties for Tennessee football games – spoke to the group and told them it was "Holly and Nikki Time in Tennessee."

Bobby Denton speaks Friday to supporters gathered at the WBHOF to support the b3 event. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Denton joked that he was talking to Caldwell about Tennessee's struggles last season – the Lady Vols finished 22-11 and bowed out in the first round of the NCAA tourney – and she mentioned that they must have missed her.

"No," Denton said. "They missed Candace Parker."

Both coaches – Warlick is the associate head coach for the Lady Vols and now in her 25th year, and Caldwell is entering her second year as the head coach of UCLA – spoke at the event and told stories about how much Summitt frets when they are on the road for their annual motorcycle ride to raise money.

Nikki Caldwell and Holly Warlick speak to those gathered Friday at the WBHOF to support their efforts to raise funds for breast cancer research. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Caldwell explained that most motorcycle riders want to take pit stops for gasoline without stopping otherwise. But Summitt wanted to know every 45 minutes or so that they were safe, so they would make more frequent stops or try to quickly call her while riding – Caldwell noted to much laughter that that wasn't exactly safe.

Summitt started her remarks by telling both coaches how much they meant to her and how proud she was of the work they had done to raise awareness of breast cancer and funds to help combat the disease. She closed her remarks by noting that Caldwell, an Oak Ridge native and former Lady Vol player and assistant coach, had gone west to UCLA.

"I am still mad at her," said Summitt, who pointed out that Caldwell would be wearing blue and gold and cheering Saturday afternoon for the Bruins in the football matchup with the Vols.

Nikki Caldwell and Holly Warlick, center, laugh as Pat Summitt expresses her feelings about Caldwell going west. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

"That's OK," Summitt said, as she turned to leave the podium and look at Caldwell. "You're going to get beat."

Caldwell laughed the loudest at that remark and wrapped her former coach in a big hug.

The coaches spent time at the event posing for photos, signing autographs and having conversations with those in attendance. The bike rides are a weeklong trip and a whirlwind of stops and promotions. The annual benefit is a relaxed atmosphere.

"I think the benefit of this is us being having to have more one-on-one face time with those who are passionate about breast cancer and what we're trying to do here," Caldwell said. "It also gives us a chance to recognize two greats in athletics when you think about what Bobby Denton has meant from the broadcasting side and what Pat Summitt has meant to the women's game period.

"So it gives us an opportunity to thank them for what they've done and what they've meant to us, too. And it's another opportunity to raise money for awareness and breast cancer. What better place to have it than here at the Hall of Fame?"

Among those in attendance were Women's Athletics Director Joan Cronan, Voice of the Lady Vols Mickey Dearstone and donor Larry Pratt, who provided the seed money for Pratt Pavilion.

Larry Pratt and Pat Summitt at the b3 event Friday. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Caldwell brought her assistants to the event, Tasha Butts and Tony Perotti, and Tennessee assistant coaches Dean Lockwood and Daedra Charles-Furlow also were in attendance. Butts is a former Lady Vol player and Perotti is a Tennessee graduate and former practice player for the Lady Vols.

Nikki Caldwell and Daedra Charles-Furlow, former teammates at Tennessee who won a national title together, were delighted to see each other Friday. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

Warlick and Summitt went to Los Angeles a year ago and watched in person as the UCLA football team defeated the Vols. Warlick, a Tennessee native and graduate, understands her friend's position but is hoping for some revenge today.

"Her blood runs orange, but she's got to go with the paycheck," Warlick said.

That doesn't mean Warlick won't harass her good friend. Caldwell stopped by Thompson-Boling Arena on Friday afternoon for the Lady Vols' photo session for the media guide.

"She was at picture day and I was screaming, ‘Bruins, go home,' " Warlick said. "I am not going to give her any mercy. Pat and I went out there last year and we sat through it and she was up on the big screen, and she was wearing her blue and gold, so we've got a lot to pay back."

The event was a homecoming for Butts, who played for Summitt from 2000 to 2004, and is from nearby – relative to Los Angeles – Milledgeville, Ga.

"To me it's just home," Butt said. "When I first got to Knoxville I am driving down (Highway) 129, and I could not believe I was back. It's been like three years. It feels good, especially being down South. It just feels like home no matter how long you've been gone. You come back and the fans are still there. I am just on a different team right now, but I love it.

"Tennessee will always have a special place in my heart. It's my alma mater. Some people understand. Some people don't. But at the end of the day we all know where my love is, but we do work for UCLA and now UCLA holds a special place. We cheer for both, as long as they're not playing each other."

Butts returned to the state of Tennessee as an accomplished woman with her college degree, a professional career completed in the WNBA and now an assistant coach at a Pac-10 school.

"I definitely like the direction that my life is headed," Butts said. "Once I feel like I am ready I definitely want to be a head coach and being able to surround myself with Pat and Nikki and Holly and Dean and a lot of these great coaches I have just learned so much. I don't feel like I have accomplished enough, but I think I am on the right path."

Butts admires the work that Warlick and Caldwell have done to raise awareness for breast cancer and women's health, and she said she would always help promote their causes, to a point.

"For me it's touching," Butt said. "I think everybody has been affected by cancer at some point. For me it recently hit very, very close. One of my really good friends, her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer so now she is getting ready to go through the chemotherapy. I have been talking to her everyday and speaking to her mom. It's a deadly disease and we have to get support. I think what Nikki and Holly do is awesome.

"I can't get on a bike and ride across the country. I will not, but I will follow them on the (web)cam and everything they do. I will Tweet about it. I will try to get it out there. But I am not going to get on a bike. I will not. I am scared of them. I don't get on skates with two blades. I still need the four wheels. I like to be balanced and not off balance."

Warlick and Caldwell will return to the road next May with their regular entourage on another bike ride. This time the trek will take them to Washington, D.C., New York and Niagara Falls and back. Warlick rode her orange-and-white motorcycle on Friday and parked it outside the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

Holly Warlick's motorcycle on the sidewalk outside the entrance to the WBHOF. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

When asked if she would rather be in blue jeans and a jacket and on her motorcycle or wearing dress clothes for the b3 event, Warlick reminded that she and Caldwell were not the "biker chicks" that people thought they were.

"Depends on what time of day," Warlick said. "Right now I want to be dressed up. During the day I want to be on my bike. I rode the bike in this morning at a quarter of six and that wasn't real fun. It was dark. I want to ride when the conditions are just perfect, and I like to ride with our group that we ride with. We ride with a bunch of guys.

"We started off to do something to tie in with riding motorcycles. We just thought it would be really cool to do it for a reason. We did this b3 event, and then we tied in a golf tournament that I had always kind of chaired. It's really taken off. I think it's become an awareness for us. We're passionate about it.

"I just heard today that both Pat and I, one of our doctors, was diagnosed with breast cancer. So it just constantly keeps hitting us and being a part of our lives. I think that's why we want to make sure it's out there. We've got to figure out something, and it all starts with funding, and that's what we are going to continue to do."

Both Caldwell and Warlick want to keep the b3 event at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. The upper level was used to put the auction items on display and the lower level provided space for food and the country music band, Matt Stillwell.

"I think we would like to do this every year here, because it's about basketball and what better place than to come to this venue and show our respect to the Hall of Fame and what it's done for this community," Warlick said. "This is a perfect setting."

Since its inception, Champions for a Cause has raised nearly $100,000 to help support efforts such as the University of Tennessee Breast Health Outreach Program, Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund and The Wellness Community of East Tennessee.

Caldwell and her assistant coaches will be back in Knoxville for UCLA's basketball matchup with the Lady Vols on Nov. 28 in Thompson-Boling Arena.

UCLA is completing its last summer school session, and then fall term will begin Sept. 22, so unlike Summitt and staff, the Bruins coaches have not yet seen their 2009-10 players on the court. The Bruins improved last season but fell short of making the NCAA Tournament.

"Getting to the NCAA, that's our destination," Caldwell said. "Our goal every day is going to be daily improvement. We want to make sure that we are better than where we were the day before. If we can keep progressing in that manner then we will grow as a team and then NCAAs and Pac-10 play, it will take care of itself."

"I am anxious to see them," Butts said. "I really think we're going to be a much better team just because everyone is familiar with everything. They know exactly what Nikki and our staff expect. We're going to be small, but we're going to be fast. We're going to be quick. They are tenacious, so I think we will do a lot better than last year, and I am hoping for the tournament."

A good-natured battle has brewed for the basketball services of Shelden Williams and Parker's daughter, Lailaa Nicole, who was born last May in Los Angeles. Parker plays in the summer for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

"She's a future Bruin!" Butts said.

"We live in the same subdivision," Caldwell said. "We're two blocks from each other. I've already offered Lailaa a national letter of intent, and she has signed it, so if you could let Summitt know that.

"Candace is very dear to me. Obviously I was her coach. Being out there in LA and us together you have to stay close to the people you know. It just works out great that we're able to spend time with her and Shelden and, yes I have an upper hand on the recruiting side of it, because I have changed and fed and kept Lailaa, so I hope that that will matter in 2026, 2027 when she's ready to make her decision."

Caldwell laughed when asked if the LOI signature was a foot- or handprint from the infant. Regardless of where Lailaa goes to school – or even if she plays basketball; Parker has joked that she will steer the child into tennis – Caldwell and Summitt will be intertwined for life.

"What it is, it's family," Caldwell said. "You can be thousands and thousands of miles away and family never changes and when you come back we haven't skipped a beat. I went over to Thompson-Boling Arena and had a chance to see Pat and Holly and Dean and Daedra and their staff. I went in and saw Miss Eloise in Arena Dining. I went down and saw men's basketball. Got a chance to see the team, as well. It's just like being back home.

Pat Summitt, center, with former assistant Nikki Caldwell, left, and current associate head coach, Holly Warlick. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)

"UT will always be a part of me. It's what helped me become the person that I am today and the coach that I am today," Caldwell added. "I carry Tennessee with me wherever I go. Obviously I love being at UCLA. They've done nothing less than embrace myself and my staff. You're torn in a way because obviously (Saturday) I'll be cheering for the Bruins, and I'll have my blue and gold on, but it's also just good to be back here in this state."

Bruins and Lady Vols together, from left, Nikki Caldwell, Pat Summitt, Holly Warlick and Tasha Butts. (Photo by Maria M. Cornelius)


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