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Tyler Summitt takes the family legacy to Marquette

By NANCY ARMOUR, AP National Writer Published: December 12, 2012

“She has that trust and that's something so great about her, she puts people in their strengths and lets them spread their wings,” Summitt said. “I don't think my assistant's role is like 99 percent of other assistants in the nation because she's given me so much freedom.”

But Summitt has earned that, Mitchell said.

“Some coaches, as they come up through the ranks, think things are owed to them. You have to work at it. You've got to work for the corner office,” she said. “But he's the complete opposite. He's worked his tail off. So much so that I need to get him to relax.”

Summitt is well aware of the impact his mother had on the women's game — on all of women's sports, really. Pat Summitt's Lady Vols were the first women's team to go mainstream, and others — in basketball and beyond — soon followed. There's not a day that goes by without someone emailing or calling Tyler Summitt to tell him about meeting his mom, getting her autograph or just seeing her at a game.

“I realize the impact she's had. But I don't think I'll ever fully grasp the multitude of what she's done,” he said.

He does, though, have greater admiration for the way she did it.

Yes, Pat Summitt won more games than any other coach, male or female, finishing with a 1,098-208 record at Tennessee. But it was the relationships she built with her players, the time she made for her family, the lessons she taught that could be carried from the court into every other corner of life, that stuck most with her son.

“There are countless opportunities for a coach to be power-hungry and get a `win-at-all-costs' attitude, and she never did that,” Tyler Summitt said. “As competitive as she was, she resisted that. She always did things the right way. She always treated people the right way. She always put the relationships of her players first. And she always put discipline above winning.

“Focus on what you can control, do things the right way, be honest and open and communicate — there's been those principles that aren't written down, but they're a part of me and a part of her,” he added.

And they're helped sustain both mother and son since May 2011, when Pat Summitt was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type, a month shy of her 59th birthday.

Pat Summitt has always been brutally honest — her glare is legendary — so going public with her diagnosis was never a question, Tyler Summitt said. She established the Pat Summitt Foundation to raise awareness and funding of Alzheimer's research, and became the public face of what, until now, has been a disease suffered mostly in private.

More than 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association, 200,000 of whom are under 65.

“It's not something people talk about as easily as cancer, AIDS, heart disease,” said Angela Geiger, the chief strategy officer for the Alzheimer's Association. “Having a public figure like Pat come forward and say, `I noticed the signs, I sought out a diagnosis,' really helps change the conversation.”

The “We Back Pat” campaign has spread across the country — and across sports. Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams made Summitt the “12th Titan” for the season opener, and Trevor Bayne had “We Back Pat” painted on his car for a Nationwide race at Bristol in August.

“It's just more awareness. There can't be enough,” Tyler Summitt said. “People seeing, `Hey, this isn't stopping her, it doesn't have to stop me or my loved one.'

“(This disease) will have as much power as you give it,” he added. “You can take its power away by, one, being open like mom was. And then, two, living your life.”

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