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Summitt still contributes to Lady Vols in new role

(AP Photo/Chad Greene, Knoxville News Sentinel)

By STEVE MEGARGEE

AP Sports Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt continues to be very involved with Lady Vols basketball

Now, the 60-year-old watches each Tennessee home game from the stands and attends most practices. She also serves as a frequent sounding board for new coach Holly Warlick and the players.

As Warlick talked with reporters before the Lady Vols' Saturday morning practice, Summitt walked by.

"Hey, coach Summitt," Warlick said. "We're just talking about you."

"We're listening," Summitt quipped in response.

Summitt has early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She ended her 38-year tenure in April 2012 after going 1,098-208 and winning eight national titles.

She has declined interview requests this season, but her role as head coach emeritus allows her to stay involved with the program - when she's not being honored or receiving an award.

She won't have to leave Knoxville for her next tribute.

Summitt will be presented donations to her foundation during breaks in Sunday's game against Alabama (11-6, 1-3 SEC). The contest closes out the Southeastern Conference's "We Back Pat" week, which supports the Pat Summitt Foundation in its fight against Alzheimer's disease.

Last year's We Back Pat week funded separate $28,000 grants to the University of Tennessee's Cole Neuroscience Center and Alzheimer's Tennessee. Tennessee officials are encouraging fans to wear We Back Pat T-shirts or purple apparel to the game to show their support for the fight against the disease.

Tennessee also announced Friday that a banner would be raised in Summitt's honor at Thompson-Boling Arena before the Lady Vols' Jan. 28 game with No. 2 Notre Dame. The actual playing court already is named after Summitt.

"I want her around," said Warlick, who talks with Summitt every day. "I love her being around our players. Our players love being around her. I just think she's a reminder of where the program is and who built this program, the great tradition and how much respect I have for her."

Summitt has only been to one road game - Tennessee's season-opening loss at Chattanooga - but she attends just about every team practice. She doesn't interact with players at practice as much as Warlick and the other assistants do, but Summitt does offer occasional pointers to the ninth-ranked Lady Vols (13-3, 4-0 SEC).

"We have our huddle and she gives her opinion in the huddle," Warlick said. "I want our players to hear what she has to say and what her perspective is."

Summitt also serves as a sounding board for both Warlick and her players.

"She's always here, always accessible," sophomore guard Ariel Massengale said. "Whether you need to call her, text her, talk to her, come to the office and meet with her, she's always here (for) moral support and wisdom because she knows so much."

Warlick also sees players having relaxed conversations with Summitt about non-basketball issues. Warlick noted that those players are enjoying the type of casual chats with Summitt they might not have had in previous seasons.

"When things are tough or hard for us in practice, coach (Summitt) may crack a joke and try to lighten up the mood," Massengale said.

That's a bit of a role reversal.

Summitt was famous for her trademark glare during her head coaching career, while Warlick was the assistant that players could confide in during difficult situations. Now Warlick is the authority figure.

"It is a little different," Warlick said. "We have changed roles, but I think both of us have handled it. She's enjoying what she's doing right now. She's enjoying coming to practice, coming home and being retired really. She's earned that right."

Updated January 19, 2013

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