She also told her former players early Tuesday morning.
“As a player, we know coach is the type who’s not going to give up. She’s going to fight, she’s going to do everything she can,” said Michelle Snow, who played for Tennessee from 1998-2002. “She’s probably going to be the best patient they ever had. She’s a fighter and she’s been through a lot. She knows how to fight and she’s going to continue to do that.”
As the stunning news swept across the women’s basketball world Tuesday, the reaction was simple: she’ll meet the disease head on.
Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn first met Summitt 40 years ago at Tennessee-Martin. The two used to play softball in the summer together and were sorority sisters. She was floored this morning when she got the phone call with the news.
“My first reaction was tremendous respect, how she was publicly acknowledging this disease. I know how tough minded she is, tremendous perseverance,” Dunn said by phone. “She will bring national attention to this disease and she can spearhead a move to try and fight it.”
That sentiment was echoed by former Lady Vols star Candace Parker.
“I don’t think she is going to let it affect her,” the Los Angeles Sparks star said. “I think she is going to continue on coaching as long as she can. She came out with (the news) and now we’re going to move forward.”
Summitt’s biggest rival, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma was shocked and saddened by the news.
“You don’t necessarily associate dementia with people our age, so this announcement really put things in perspective,” he said.
Summitt has won eight national titles at Tennessee and is 29 victories short of 1,100 _ that would give her 200 more than former Texas coach Jody Conradt, who is No. 2 on the list.
“It always seemed she had no vulnerability,” Conradt said. “She’s the solid rock everyone looked up to. … I’m very happy she’s not going to walk off the court at this point. When you have made it your life, there needs to be transition.”
Summitt has been bothered for a while by rheumatoid arthritis. Tennessee athletics director Joan Cronan said that the coach initially chalked up her memory problems to side effects from medicine she was taking to treat it.
The coach first consulted local doctors, who recommended she undergo a more extensive evaluation. In May, she traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where doctors performed a spinal tap and other tests that eventually produced the diagnosis.
Summitt’s first reaction was anger, but that soon gave way to determination.
“She’s ready to fight this and move on,” Cronan said. “She had to come to grips with how she wanted to face it.”