Men's Basketball

Kentucky's Mitchell says Summitt's departure leaves a void

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt shook hands with Matthew Mitchell as Kentucky played Tennessee  on Thursday  February 19, 2009 Lexington,Kentucky. Photo by Mark Cornelison  | Staff
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt shook hands with Matthew Mitchell as Kentucky played Tennessee on Thursday February 19, 2009 Lexington,Kentucky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Twelve years ago, Matthew Mitchell was a nobody.

But he will never forget that Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt treated him like a somebody.

It was 2000, and Mitchell was a graduate assistant for the Lady Vols basketball program.

Summitt already was an icon.

Mitchell was a former high school coach.

"As someone who was not significant in the pecking order, she really invested time in me, spent time with me, made me feel valuable," Mitchell recalled of Summitt. "She gave me confidence. ... I would have been just fine kind of being along for the ride, but she really included me in a significant way and that has always stayed with me."

Mitchell, Kentucky's head coach, is one of thousands around the country who were mentored by Summitt and saddened by the news that she is stepping down after 38 seasons as the Lady Vols' coach.

Holly Warlick, a long-time Summitt assistant, was named the new head coach on Wednesday.

Summit, who was diagnosed with early-onset dementia (Alzheimer's type) last summer, was named Tennessee's coach emeritus.

It's not a well-defined position yet, Summitt told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

"We had to give it a name; that's pretty much what it is,'' she told the paper. "They kind of outlined everything. I don't know exactly what it's going to be."

Mitchell and UK's staff are probably more intertwined with the Lady Vols' staff than any other in the country.

Mitchell was a graduate assistant at Tennessee, and UK associate head coach Kyra Elzy and assistant coach Shalon Pillow both played for Summitt.

Matt Insell, another Cats assistant, worked Summitt's basketball camps in the summer.

"There's a void in the game when you lose a giant like this," Mitchell continued. "People are going to be sad to see her go, especially all of us who are so connected to her personally and have had personal impacts made by her on our lives."

During Summitt's career, she won 1,098 games, the most among all NCAA coaches. She won eight national titles as head coach of the Lady Vols.

"Trying to put a career like hers into perspective is tough to do," Mitchell said. "It's real sudden news and I really haven't had time to process it."

More than anything, Mitchell said his staff and family planned to continue to support the woman he still refers to as "Coach" and her Pat Summitt Foundation.

"She was so courageous with the way she approached last season," Mitchell said. "We're just real hopeful that her health is good. ... The most important thing right now is to try and stay behind her."

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