When she stepped into a basketball arena, most television cameras captured the way Pat Summitt controlled a room, or, more appropriately, a court.
“Everybody knows the blue eyes and that stare,” Greg Brown said.
In just two years as an assistant for Summitt and Tennessee, though, Brown got to see a gentler, lighter side of the legendary basketball coach. Brown, now the head coach at Lipscomb, recalls a team trip to Greece and how his then-four-month old son, Cole, wouldn’t stop crying while on a bus.
“He was crying and scrumming around and Pat said, ‘Hey, give me that baby. Let me put him to sleep.’ And it was instant,’ ” Brown said. “Her sense of humor, all those type of things, you don’t get a chance to see unless you’re with her every day. She loves kids. She loves dogs. She loves a good joke. Those are the things I remember as much anything.”
On Saturday when Lipscomb hosts Mercer at 4 p.m., Brown will honor his former mentor and raise money to fight the disease she continues to battle.
Brown, a former Lipscomb men’s basketball assistant in his first year heading up the women’s program, led the charge to hold a “We Back Pat” day to raise awareness and money for the Pat Summitt Foundation, which Summitt started to help fund research for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type, in August 2011 and retired last season after 38 years at Tennessee.
“We just wanted to be able to help in any way we can and obviously it was a way to honor Coach Summitt and what she has done for the game,” Brown said. “Outside of my parents, Coach Summitt and [former Lipscomb coach Don] Meyer have had more of an impact on me not only professionally but personally as well. Every day you realize how much more of an impact she had.”
Brown spent two years on Summitt’s staff, first as a graduate assistant in 2002-03 before he was promoted to assistant coach.
Unfortunately, he also is familiar with Alzheimer’s. His wife, Teresa, had two grandparents die from complications with the disease.
“You know what is like to go through it,” he said. “You know [Summitt’s son] Tyler and the rest of the family will go through with that. It is a cruel disease. When we got here and we had the opportunity to do it, our athletic director [Philip Hutcheson] was supportive. We just thought it was a great thing to do with so many Tennessee and Pat Summitt supporters.”
Lipscomb players and the coaching staff will wear purple — the color for Alzheimer’s awareness — “We Back Pat” T-shirts. The staff and players will also gather after the game with fans in the McQuiddy practice gymnasium to sign autographs and raise awareness about the foundation.
The Southeastern Conference just concluded its second annual “We Back Pat” Week on Sunday when Tennessee hosted Alabama. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, with Summitt on hand, the Pat Summitt Foundation received checks from the News Sentinel, Sam’s Club and the SEC that totaled $32,145,
The Lady Vols’ first-year head coach, Holly Warlick, said support from Brown and others speaks volumes to Summitt’s influence.
“I think with Greg being in the profession I think it is just shows you the impact Pat has not only had on female athletes but female and male coaches and Greg in particular,” Warlick said. “We have so much respect for Don Meyer and he coached for Don. He came in as a grad assistant and he was an outstanding coach, great person. So Pat immediately moved up to assistant coaching position and his career has accelerated since. We have a lot of respect for Greg and what he does and I know he is going to do great for that program.”