The former Tennessee women’s basketball coach showed no obvious signs of her illness Wednesday during a rare three-minute session with local media at a preview screening of “Pat XO,” a documentary on her life airing July 9 on ESPN.
Summitt stepped down in April 2012, one year after announcing she had early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Summitt, whose 1,098 career victories make her the winningest Division I men’s or women’s basketball coach in history, attended most of the Lady Vols’ practices and watched nearly every home game from the stands this past season as head coach emeritus.
“At first, it was different, obviously,” Summitt said. “But you know, I decided I was going to step down and let Holly (Warlick) take care of it. I’m very, very content in my role. Obviously I go to practice with them and all, but I think Holly is doing a great job.”
Summitt received a warm welcome at a downtown Knoxville screening that took place less than two miles from Thompson-Boling Arena, the home floor where she led Tennessee to eight national titles.
She posed for pictures and greeted fans while walking the length of an orange carpet that led to the theater. The invitation-only screening drew 250 people, though dozens more fans and the Tennessee cheerleading squad arrived to celebrate her appearance.
“That’s just Tennessee,” Summitt said of the reception. “That’s what people do. They come out and they support you. I’m just really excited we’re going to have a lot of people her so they can actually see it.”
Summitt has signed on for a second year as head coach emeritus on Warlick’s staff. Tennessee went 27-8 and reached a regional final this past season under Warlick, who played for Summitt and Tennessee and worked as her assistant for 27 seasons.
Her new role also gave Summitt more time to spend watching her son, Tyler, who just completed his first season as an assistant women’s basketball coach at Marquette. Summitt spent part of her session with reporters talking about her son’s “great wedding” that took place in Knoxville earlier this month.
“I was happy for him,” Summitt said. “They’d been wanting that for a long time.”
One of the people attending Wednesday’s preview screening was North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, who flew down from Chapel Hill and left her basketball camp just to catch the movie and support her former graduate school classmate.
“It is the first time I haven’t given out the awards at one of my camps in 27 years, but it’s that important, that special,” Hatchell said. “I’ll do anything for Pat.”
The preview screening occurred on the same day that Tennessee officials formally announced plans to build a plaza on campus honoring Summitt and including a bronze statue of the Hall of Fame coach. The plaza will be privately funded by donations, though athletic director Dave Hart said he was unsure of its exact cost.
Hart said he hoped it would be completed in time to have a dedication ceremony later this year.
“I’m hoping this fall at some point during the middle to late part of the football season we could have a dedication,” Hart said. “A lot of things have to fall into place for us to hit that target, but I’m hopeful that we can find a way to hit that target.”