Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt honored with plaza, statue
KNOXVILLE, TN (UT/WRCB) -- Many aspects of Pat Summitt's life have changed in recent years.
Her constant drive to impact the lives of others is not one of them.
The legendary Lady Vols' coach, who always said the key to success was to surround yourself with great people, saw the return on her lifelong investment Friday morning in Knoxville.
Thousands of those bettered by Summitt flocked to the University of Tennessee campus to surround her one more time for the dedication of the Pat Summitt Plaza.
Former players and coaches joined the current Lady Volunteer team and staff to line the wall behind the plaza's centerpiece, an 8-foot-7, 500-pound statue of college basketball's all-time winningest coach.
Fans crowded the streets at the corner of Lake Loudon Blvd and Phillip Fulmer Way to show their support and bask in another memorable moment in the Tennessee legend's career.
"This is a great day," Summit said as she addressed the crowd. "I want everybody to know that, for me, today is not about me. It's about everyone out here that loves the University of Tennessee, and we hope and pray that we can continue to do good things.
"I want everyone to know just how much I appreciate what's happened here today and I will never forget it. I love you all."
Every current Tennessee head coach, as well as longtime women's athletics director Joan Cronan and former head football coach Phillip Fulmer, were among those returning that love.
Summitt has always pushed a family theme in every aspect of her life and program, forming relationships that continued long after players left Knoxville.
"We're using the hashtag now, once a Lady Vol, always a Lady Vol - and it's so true," said ex-LadyVol great Tamika Catchings, who represented Summitt's former players at the podium. "This is a family, from one of the first point guards to ever play for Pat, to the current players that are still here.
"The family that we've been able to develop underneath her and her tradition has been wonderful."
The plaza has been a year-long project to honor and preserve Summitt's legacy. However, the actual construction was performed under a fast-tracked 70-day calendar over the past three months.
She stepped down as head coach two years ago after being diagnosed with early onset dementia, closing a 38-year career that included eight national championships.
"These women here today, your players, represent only a fraction of the women you've impacted in such a significant way," UT athletics director Dave Hart said. "You were their coach, and they benefited from that immensely. But more than that, you were their mentor, and through that you shaped their lives, as you did to thousands of young men and women alike, who wanted to emulate everything you stood for, the standard of excellence you set and the way you demanded it in an uncompromising manner."
Summitt's son, Tyler, delivered the keynote address.
He noted his mother's greatest joy was seeing something she taught help someone else, and said that happened to him last week when he used one of her lesson's to help Marquette, where he is an assistant coach, beat Vanderbilt.
He believes her plaza will make a similar impact on those who see it in the future.
"Because of today, every person that sees this can remember what she stands for," Tyler said. "They will have a Pat Summitt teaching moment, and nothing could make my mom smile more."