By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Tennessee’s Pat Summitt plans to coach “as long as the good Lord is willing” despite recently being diagnosed with early onset dementia.
In a statement from Summitt released by the university on Tuesday, the Hall of Fame coach said she visited with doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., after the end of the 2010-11 basketball season ended and was diagnosed with early onset dementia –Alzheimer’s type — over the summer.
“I plan to continue to be your coach,” Summitt said.
“Obviously, I realize I may have some limitations with this condition since there will be some good days and some bad days.”
The Knoxville News Sentinel and Washington Post first reported Summitt’s condition. The coach did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Tennessee athletics director Joan Cronan told the AP that Summitt first thought her symptoms were side effects from medicine she was taking to treat rheumatoid arthritis. She said Summitt appears to be feeling better after beginning to get treatment for the dementia condition and speaking publically about it.
“She’s ready to fight this and move on,” Cronan said. “She had to come to grips with how she wanted to face it.”
Summitt, 59, told the Knoxville paper she plans to rely on medication and mental exercises to manage the progressive condition that destroys cognitive abilities over time.
She said longtime assistants Holly Warlick, Dean Lockwood and Mickie DeMoss will take on more responsibilities with the team going forward.
Summitt met with the Lady Volunteers on Tuesday to discuss her diagnosis with them. Junior guard Taber Spani said the meeting was business-like, with Summitt telling the Lady Vols nothing would get in the way for their quest of a ninth national title this season.
“More than anything she just emphasized that she’s our coach and that she wanted us to have complete confidence in her, and we do,” Spani told the AP.
Both UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Cronan pledged their support of Summitt’s decision to continue coaching.
“Pat Summitt is our head coach and she will continue to be,” Cronan said. “She is an icon not only for women’s basketball but for all of women’s athletics. For Pat to stand-up and share her health news is just a continuing example of her courage. Life is an unknown and none of us have a crystal ball. But I do have a record of knowing what Pat Summitt stands for; excellence, strength, honesty and courage.”
As college basketball’s winningest coach, Summitt has spent 37 seasons at Tennessee and has 1,071 career victories and eight national championships. The Lady Vols have failed to reach the Final Four since they last won the national championship in 2008.
Summitt said she met with local doctors after becoming concerned about her health, and those physicians recommended she undergo a more extensive evaluation. Summitt told the News Sentinel that her maternal grandmother had suffered from severe dementia.
“Pat came to us with concerns about her health and our preliminary evaluation was suggestive of dementia. Because of her young age, Pat was referred to neurology for formal evaluation,”
Dr. Amy Bentley, with Knoxville’s Internal Medicine Associates, said in a statement. “After extensive testing, a diagnosis of early Alzheimer’s was made and appropriate treatment was initiated.”
Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement he was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Summitt’s diagnosis.
“You don’t necessarily associate dementia with people our age so this announcement really put things in perspective,” Auriemma said. “Pat has great support from her family, friends and staff and I know they will help her immensely. There is no doubt in my mind that Pat will take on this challenge as she has all others during her Hall of Fame career –head on. I wish her all the best.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)