Manno: A woman worthy of her name

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Manno: A woman worthy of her name

On Wednesday, Pat Summitt stepped down as head coach at the University of Tennessee at the age of 59, less than a year after being diagnosed with early onset dementia. Comcast SportsNet's Carolyn Manno has a personal reflection of the woman who shaped the face of modern women's collegiate basketball.

By Carolyn Manno
Comcast SportsNet

Let's start with the name, Summitt, a fitting one for a woman who, for over the last 38 years as the head coach and mastermind behind the groundbreaking University of Tennessee women's basketball program, has worked tirelessly to reach the pinnacle of the collegiate coaching landscape.

The first and only time I saw Pat Summitt in person started around 2 p.m. on Saturday, January 5, 2008. I was working as a reporter and camera (wo)man in South Bend, Indiana. Candace Parker and the Lady Vols were in town to play the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish. As the game tipped off, in front of the fourth sellout crowd in the history of Notre Dame women's basketball, I watched Summitt's piercing blue eyes meticulously follow her players as they moved from one baseline to the other. Through the safety of my camera lens, I zoomed closer to her face during a timeout before halftime. Tennessee had used a 22-2 run midway through the first half to open a 30-10 lead. Summitt's expression in the huddle suggested they were the ones down 20.

Following her 19th straight win over the Irish -- who should have lost by TKO minutes into the second half -- Summitt made her way to the press room.

As she sat down at the table in front of me, her presence was so intimidating that I felt a sudden urge to ease out the door to the safety of my car. But my pangs of anxiety subsided when she started speaking. For as ferocious as she was on the court, Summitt was as genuine and graceful off of it. In her southern drawl, she warmly answered questions and complimented the efforts of the team she had never lost to -- and had been beating by an average margin of 23 points.

I was only in her presence for a day, and really only for a few minutes. But I can understand why the majority of the 161 women who have played for her, and graduated under her, sing her praises.

In nearly four decades, Pat Summitt never had a season with a losing record. As great a coach as she was, though, those who know her the best say her crowning achievement is her 21-year-old son Tyler, who grew up following his mother around the basketball court that now bears her name.

Former players remember carting Tyler around on their shoulders after winning national titles. Now it is his 59-year-old mother who will need to borrow his shoulder to lean on, as she continues to battle an opponent far tougher than any she's ever faced.

"The thing my mom always taught me is to put the team before yourself. She really felt like this was the best thing for the Lady Vol program," Tyler said at his mother's retirement press conference Thursday -- the same day he officially accepted his first job. After graduating next month, Tyler Summitt will become an assistant coach with the Marquette women's basketball team.

A celebratory day instead felt ruthlessly ironic.

Early-onset Alzheimer's is the most savage of thieves. It will mercilessly pillage Summitt's brain without rest until it has stolen virtually every memory that has been engrained there over a 38-year head coaching career . . . and a lifetime.

Eventually, the seven-time National Coach of the year will likely not be able to remember a single championship.

She may not be able to recall even one of her 1,098 wins.

Or even her son's name.

Alzheimer's winning percentage is a perfect 1.000.

But the thousands who have called her an influence, the hundreds who have called her a coach, and the one who still calls her "Mom" will never forget her.

"It has been a privilege," the Hall of Famer said Thursday while seated behind a press conference microphone to announce her retirement from the game she revolutionized.

The privilege, Coach, has been ours.

Morning Skate: Flames land Hamonic in trade with Islanders

Morning Skate: Flames land Hamonic in trade with Islanders

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while touching back down from the Windy City of Chicago.

 

*The Calgary Flames step away as one of the big winners in the NHL Draft weekend after securing defenseman Travis Hamonic on Day 2 of the festivities.

 

*Here’s a good piece on a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, and the lengths that hockey families will go to better their career chances.

 

*Ottawa Senators GM Pierre Dorion sure sounds like a guy that’s working to try and deal Dion Phaneuf away from the Sens, doesn’t he?

 

*Cool story about the second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings, and a family background that is just going to become more and more commonplace as time goes by. Congrats to the family on what must have been a great weekend in Chicago.

 

*The Flyers are loading up on draft picks and trading some veterans, but don’t dare call it a rebuild in Philadelphia.

 

*Speaking of picks from Saturday’s second day of the draft, the Blue Jackets actually drafted a kid from the same hometown in the French Alps, Grenoble, as Andre the Giant. That is pretty damn noteworthy.  

 

*For something completely different: I’d always wondered about the backstory with the father in the Toy Story movies, and this is certainly a major bummer of a background story.

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

BOSTON – With his new head coach Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics ownership and front office officials surrounding him, Jayson Tatum’s mind seemed to be somewhere else briefly.

He looked ahead, way, way ahead to the other end of the Celtics’ practice court where there were banners, lots of banners, raised high above all else in the gym.

This wasn’t just a passing glance, either.

TATUM SPEAKS

It was clear that the newest Celtic was in deep thought as he stared at the 17 banners and the one left blank, a steady reminder of what this franchise is about, past and present.

Yes, it’s a lot to soak in for anyone let alone a 19-year-old kid whose career with the Celtics can be timed on a stopwatch.

But the soft-spoken 6-foot-9 forward has been here long enough to understand that success around here is about more than playing well; it’s playing to win a championship.

And that in many ways separates Tatum from his teenage brethren who made up the majority of Thursday night’s NBA draft which included an NBA-record 17 players taken in the first round who like Tatum, were just one year removed from high school.

All come into the NBA with lots to learn, as well as goals and aspirations for this upcoming NBA season.

During an interview with CSN on Friday, I asked Tatum about what in his mind would make for a successful season.

And his answer initially was to ask me a question, “Individual or team?”

So I replied, either one.

“To get back to where they were last year and get over that hump,” he said. “Championships, chasing that number 18, that would be the ultimate success for me.”

That served as a reminder as to why despite having a handful of players under consideration at No. 3, the Celtics did the right thing in selecting Tatum.

His words may seem like the politically correct response, but take a look at the kid’s basketball resume and you’ll quickly see he is indeed about winning and doing so in whatever way possible.

After missing his first eight games at Duke with a foot injury, Tatum gradually improved as the season progressed and wound up on the all-rookie team as well as being named to the All-ACC third team.

Once the Blue Devils got to the ACC Tournament, Tatum became a different, better, more dominant player.

Indeed, Tatum led the Blue Devils to their first ACC championship since 2011 and did so in historic fashion as the Blue Devils became the first ACC school to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

Late in the title game against Notre Dame, Tatum put together a sequence of plays that speaks to why the Celtics were seriously considering taking him with the number one overall pick had they not been able to trade it for the No. 3 and a future first-round pick.

With the scored tied at 65, Tatum made a free throw that put Duke ahead.

Moments later, he blocked a shot and finished off the play with a lay-up that gave Duke a three-point lead.

After a Notre Dame basket, Tatum connected with a teammate for a 3-pointer that pushed Duke’s lead to four points with around a minute to play.

And then there was the 3-point play Tatum converted after getting fouled on a dunk which secured a 76-69 Duke win over the Fighting Irish.

Free throws. Blocks. Getting out in transition. Passing.

When his team needed him most, he gave whatever was required at that moment which is one of the intangibles that makes Boston feel good about his future.

“He does whatever he has to do to help you win,” said an NBA scout who said he has seen Tatum play “at least a dozen times.”

He added, “Like all of these kids coming into the league now, he has some things he has to get better at, get more consistent with. But he makes winning plays, whether it’s for himself or others. He’s a lot more unselfish a player than he’s given credit for being.”

And he’s 19 years old, which is both a blessing and a burden when you’re an NBA team executive charged with committing at least two years and millions of dollars into a young man.

Part of the process when making a draft choice, especially when it’s one of the top picks, is character evaluation.

Of the players at or near the top of the draft board, multiple league executives contacted by CSNNE.com in the past couple of weeks said this was an area where Tatum stood out in comparison to all of the top prospects.

“He’s the kind of young man you’d love whether he was a basketball player or not,” one Western Conference executive told CSNNE.com. “If you’re ranking guys on character alone in this draft, he’s your number one pick.”

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged the challenge of differentiating between miscues made by a teenager as being problems of concern going forward, or whether that’s a teenager making the kind of bad/questionable decisions most teens make.

“It’s dangerous to play too much into a 19-year-old kid’s behavior,” Ainge told CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper on Friday. “But I think that, with all the things we do, from physical, emotional, mental, character, work ethic and their skills … it’s just really hard at 19. You hate to just be labeled what you are at 18.”

But in regards to Tatum specifically, Ainge added, “Jayson is a high character guy. We know he will get better because of his character and his work ethic.”

Said Tatum: “It’s a great feeling. Being part of a great organization like the Celtics; think of all the great players of the past and you can follow in their footsteps.”

And in doing so, blaze a trail of his own in the pursuit of Banner 18.