Pat Summitt's dementia: How will it affect the Lady Vols?

Despite her startling diagnosis, the legendary coach promises to stick with the Tennessee basketball squad she's led into the history books

University of Tennessee Lady Vols head coach Pat Summitt
(Image credit: John Albright/ ICon SMI/Corbis)

Legendary women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, 59, is unleashing her famous Summitt Stare on her toughest opponent yet: Early-onset dementia. The legendary coach of the Tennesse Lady Vols announced Tuesday that she has been diagnosed with the incurable disease, but promised to continue coaching her squad. With 1,000 victories, eight national titles, and two Olympic medals, Summitt is considered one of college basketball's greatest coaches ever, alongside Geno Auriemma, Mike Krzyzewski, Bobby Knight, and John Wooden. But how will her affliction affect her legacy and the Lady Vols' upcoming season?

The team may not get the coaching it deserves: Arguably, Summitt should retire, says Sean Gregory at TIME. Her players worked their entire lives to make it onto the Lady Vols, and "they only get one shot at college hoops." As such, they deserve "the highest possible level of instruction" — one Summitt may no longer be able to provide thanks to deterioration of her brain function. Nonetheless, expect her players to support her. "They know that Summitt's fight is bigger than themselves."

"Pat Summitt's toughest opponent yet: Early onset dementia"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Actually, this will inspire greatness: The Lady Vols are trying reclaim their status as the best in women's college basketball, says Michelle Smith at ESPN. Summitt's diagnosis could give them the motivation they need to "play hard, play tough, and play the way Summitt has taught them." Tennessee's freshman players are ranked No. 1 in the nation, and will witness an invaluable lesson this season: "What to do when life knocks you down." As a team, they may become "the example of resilience and courage Summitt is about to show the world."

"Pat Summitt's way will lead the Tennessee Lady Vols"

Either way, things will change: Summitt has confessed she forgot plays at times last season — and she'll obviously have to rely on her assistant coaches more, says Mark Bradley at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As she continues on, "she'll be viewed in a way no coach has ever been." For decades, fans who watched her pace the sidelines, shooting her infamous Summitt Stare at players, thought, "There's the coach who has won more college games than anyone of any gender." Now, "we'll be wondering if she's OK."

"The iron-willed Pat Summitt faces the scariest diagnosis there is"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.