Ashley Robinson heard the news and immediately thought of a dedication for Pat Summitt, the legendary Tennessee coach: orange fingernails.
Robinson played for Summitt from 2000-04, feeling the shame shock and concern as other alumni upon hearing NCAA basketball’s winningest coach was diagnosed with early onset dementia at age 59. A Storm center, Robinson immediately reached out to her former coach via text messaging and Twitter to express her support on Tuesday.
“She text’d back that she’s doing OK, she loves me and it’s time to focus on winning another national championship,” Robinson said of Summitt, who made a video statement about her condition on Tuesday. She’ll continue to coach the Volunteers for the 2011-12 season.
“She’s not really worried about herself as much as she’s worried about the team, the fans her X-players and everybody else…she doesn’t want a pity party, so we’re not going to have a pity party for her,” Robinson said. “You see stories about people with dementia, Alzheimer on TV and I just think it’ll be a sad day when she can’t remember her legacy. But I hope by then there’s a cure and she’ll always be able to remember how great she is and what she means to all of us.”
Legendary Virgina coach Debbie Ryan, who retired in March, said she cried upon hearing the news Tuesday morning. Ryan coached for 34 years, defeating Summitt’s Vols once en route to winning a national championship.
Now a volunteer coach for the Storm, Ryan thought of her own public battle with pancreatic cancer. A survivor, she was diagnosed in 2000 and continued to coach the Cavilers.
“This is so difficult because she’s really been the matriarch of our whole sport and someone who you see as such a pillar of character and leadership,” said Ryan of Summitt, who led Tennessee to eight NCAA titles. “She will turn this around into something very positive because that’s the way she handles everything in life. She’ll find a good plan in helping millions and millions of people that might have to go through this. This was the first step, to talk about it.
“Having been through a major disease myself, you have to make a decision, which is really, really hard because you don’t know what the future holds. But she’s already stepped out and done the hardest part and that’s let the public know.”
Storm coach Brian Agler and veteran Katie Smith (Ohio State) also expressed support and concern for Summitt. Agler’s daughter, Taylor, is an impressive high school guard in Ohio, already putting Tennessee on the wish-list of colleges to attend.
“When I was a senior, we had an in-home visit and she (Pat) came to my house and it was probably the biggest thing to happen to Grand Prairie (Texas) at that point in time,” said Robinson of Summitt recruiting her. “It was nice to have such a legend at my school.”