It’s hard to believe that I started writing this blog yesterday while sitting at the airport in Atlanta between Rio de Janeiro and Indianapolis. The constant realizations that I have just ended my 20-year journey with USA Basketball. A day I knew would come, just not when… has officially come and gone.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Saturday was the last time that I will ever put on my #10 USA Basketball jersey and represent my country ON the court. A thought, that became a dream, which became a reality 20 years ago, officially came to an end. Gosh, where has time gone? Last week I started thinking about what my last day would be like, and Friday night and I forced myself to go to sleep early for fear my mind would wander aimlessly for hours and hours. Nonetheless, I woke up at the crack of dawn Saturday, replaying all of my years, thinking about the amazing players I’ve had a chance to play with, and even more so the great teams I’ve been apart of. Thinking about my journey of basketball and the impact that my fave coach ever, Pat Summitt, had on me. This whole last run- Gold and all, is for her : )
I know she watches me...
This trip to Rio has been a surreal one in thinking of the finality that it represents. At the beginning of the WNBA season everyone wanted to talk about what it would feel like playing in my last WNBA season and going through my last Olympics. Funny because back then it seemed like forever away… Now, it’s literally 36 hours past, and I feel a proud sense of closure.
Ellis & I : )
Saturday morning I went upstairs to the deck to just enjoy the scenery and collect my thoughts and emotions one last time. As I was sitting there, one of my faves from USA Ball, Ellis, came over and we started talking and reflecting on our journeys within basketball. Ellis has been a part of USAB since 2005, so over the course of the last 10 years I have had an opportunity to get to know and hang out with him. It’s weird to think that I have been a part of USAB for more than half of my life. It has been a part of me, it has been in me, it has helped guide and mold me into the person and player that I am today. Wow!
Some of my faves
So much has happened in my life over the course of 20 years. People and players have come, and some have gone. We have matured (some more than others LOL) and life has just happened. We went from the young wide-eyed ballers trying to learn the ropes, to the more experienced ones trying to leave our own handprints for the next generation to follow. We’ve been woven into the fabric of Team USA and what it means to represent something so much bigger than our respective WNBA teams, Collegiate teams, AAU, hometown, etc. We’ve gotten to represent the whole United States of America.
This last time around I told myself that I would get out more, that I would focus on things outside of basketball, and that I would spend as much time as I could with my teammates. Check, check, check… I feel like I have been able to “experience” it from a different light.
New & old friendships that will be forever
I’ve been able to get out and see different sites here in Rio while still staying caught up on all of my newfound friends via Team USA. Bonds have been created within the team and our families that will never be broken. Like I always say, “God puts us in places and situations for a reason.” For me, being here and able to spend my last Olympic journey with my husband and my family. This is the end of one journey, and the beginning of so much more.
My lil sis, Syl... Love my fam!!
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports
The question I keep getting is “What was I feeling standing on that podium, and how do I feel now?” The tears were from the realization that this journey has come to an end. A legacy has been made, but my life off the court and in what ever’s next, has just begun. The emotions were just thankful ones of an opportunity to get to spend with such an elite group of the last 16 years representing the USA Senior Basketball Team. Tears of knowing my playing days with Sue, D and my other teammates have come to an end. Tears of all of the memories, all of the good times and more importantly of the legacy that I’ll leave for so many players that will come up behind me.
Our crew on the Silver Cloud - thank you everyone (Sayit is the bomb)!!
This Olympic experience, my Olympic journey has taken me to places that I never thought possible. It has provided me opportunities that I never knew I wanted, and it has given me friendships that I will forever cherish.
They tracked our whole journey! Thanks to the crew : )
So, the tears and emotions… it’s for the ultimate ending of one chapter. But, the beginning of so much more : )
The last few days have been a whirlwind, but my current situation involves me lying on my living room floor, icing my knees after just waking up from a nap. I believe we all dream more often than not, but a lot of times we don’t remember what our dreams consist of. Well, mine definitely woke me up searching and looking…
The stage set up : )
Thursday my stomach was complete knots all day. I stressed and stressed about how I was going to sum up Pat in just 5 minutes. I mean, like most of us that knew her, 5 minutes doesn’t truly justify what all Pat meant to us. And, now I had 5 minutes to pay tribute to her AND… it would be broadcast across the globe. I’ve done a lot of speaking engagements, and I always get a touch of nervousness, but this didn’t even compare. My Mom and Parnell kept telling me how great I would do, but I just had so much to share- and not enough time.
Pat Summitt's Celebration
The evening was absolutely amazing!! It started off with rehearsals, to receptions, to pictures and another reception. All of the Lady Vols, coaches, families, officials and fans came together to send Pat off the RIGHT way!! I know I wrote about it before, but the way that Pat has been able to bring so many amazing people together on and off the court is truly awesome. Her impact will forever be felt. And, her contribution to the game of basketball will always be remembered.
Here’s my speech:
Pat Summitt… the Best Ever
I was in 8th grade the 1st time I came across Pat Summitt indirectly. I was sitting at home flipping through the channels and all of a sudden I stopped- drawn into an icy blue stare of the one and only… I was hypnotized instantly and for whatever reason couldn’t pull away from the screen.
I remember thinking to myself then, “I just hope I get good enough to be able to play for that lady.” The passion, the stare, the determination, the will power, the FIGHT… that is what I wanted, that was what pushed me to take my game to another level. Fast forward to my sophomore year in HS, the first time I got a letter from the Lady Vols – signed by Mickie & Holly. I don’t know what it was, but I pasted that letter on the wall- next to my favorite player, Alonzo Mourning. Another one of my faves…
We can never prepare for a moment like this, although ultimately we know it will come. But, I don’t know why, Pat seemed invincible in every way. I knew coming to UT that I would be pushed, and that I would be challenged, but I believe that all of us Lady Vols welcomed that – some more than others (LOL) and were willing to be molded into the people that we are today.
Pat was more than our coach. She was our friend. She was our mentor. She was our leader. She was our mother. She was our father. And, for me, she was my quiet through my storms. While we didn’t speak everyday, there’s just something about knowing someone is just a phone call away. But, now I know she’s just a prayer away.
When I look out over the sea of our Lady Vol family, we are all brought together, joined in unity for this moment because of our wonderful leader, Pat. I can’t imagine how different our lives would have been if we had chose anywhere but here. WE came here to play ball and get an education, but we left with so much more! While she valued what we did on the court, but even more so she valued what we did in the classroom and community, and ultimately what we would each individually bring to the world. And, that we all have done to some capacity!
There have been a lot of tears shed over the past month as we watched our hero slip away from the earthly realm to the heavenly one. And, while it’s been tough, the amazing stories that have been shared over the past few weeks have made this celebration just a little bit easier.
I know Pat is looking down and continues to look down on each of us as we celebrate her life today and what she means and has done for so many of us. She gave us hope, she gave us direction, she gave us a sense of coolness through what we did on and off the court. She was the epitome of what BEING GREAT is all about, and that bubbled over to us through her expectations for each of us to be great!
Standing here today, I go back to the phone call Pat made to me back in 2012 when she was diagnosed with dementia. She said “Catch, don’t be scared. I am going to fight like none other.” Well, through her fight and continuous fight Pat has showed us how to be strong and how to be great once again!!” I dedicated the 2012 season to her and we finished strong with a championship with her in the building. The hug that I gave her that night, I will never forget. As we embraced in that moment, I swear no one else was there, and everything seemed perfect- nothing else mattered. That moment… the real Pat was there and was able to witness more than a basketball accomplishment, but a life accomplishment.
Tonight we celebrate Pat, and we all remember the greatness that she exuded in everything she did. Tonight we cry, we dance, we laugh, we sing to honor Pat and everything about her.
I’d like all of the Lady Vols to stand at this time.
To our leader… our mentor… our mother… our friend… our inspiration… our Angel. Thank you for being a faithful servant in all that you did and allowing us to walk the walk of life with you. This is not a good bye, but a “Until we meet again…”
We love you Pat for everything!!
Pat’s legacy in women’s basketball continues to live on today and will for years to come thanks to the impact she had on the coaching profession. Basketball sidelines around the nation, and at all levels, are filled with coaches who can point directly to Pat and her influence on the game as the reason why they are where they are today.
No one was more familiar with just how much she impacted those around her and grew the game of women’s basketball than those who worked closely with her and beside her for many years.
Please join me in welcoming two of Pat’s former assistant coaches and closest friends, Mickie DeMoss and Holly Warlick.
Legends always multiply... thank you Pat!
So, back to my dream… I woke up to the hymn “It is Well With My Soul” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY5o9mP22V0) playing in my head and the image of Pat walking off the court, smiling & waving goodbye. I opened my eyes quick, not wanting to let go. But, in the moment I opened them, I lost her, but through the song, I can still feel her…
The Celebration was just that- a celebration of the life of Pat and all the people that she’s impacted. I’m so grateful to be one of them. One thing I know for sure, I will not let her down and I will continue to carry part of the flame that she passed on to 161 of us players, staff, fans, family and the world!!
Awesome Shirts from Debby Jennings- Once a Lady Vol, ALWAYS A Lady Vol
Pat… it is well, It is well with my soul… Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord.”
I woke up this morning around 4:14a with an eerie sense of loneliness and shook it away long enough to get back to sleep for a few more hours before I needed to get up to head to the gym. At 6:30a both alarms went off on my ipad and my cell, and as I struggled to turn them off, my phone started ringing at the same time. Once again I looked around the darkness and struggled to comprehend, why I was getting a call so early, hoping that I hadn’t overslept…
“Tamika… Tamika… are you there?” my friend on the other end asked.
“Huh?... yes I’m here.” I responded.
“Tamika… I need you to get up. Have you heard the news? She asked.
“Pat passed,” I said as I choked on my own words… “Wow.”
I don’t know what all was said next, but I remember my last statement as I was getting off the phone…
“I have to get ready to go to the gym.”
And then we hung up. As I swung my legs over to the floor, nothing felt right in the moment. Go to the gym? For what? Tears started to slide down my face. First slowly, and then rapidly until I hit the dry heave. Alone in my space, reaching for Parnell, but not knowing where he was. I started praying. Much like I did when I saw her on Sunday.
“Lord, your will be done—not mine. Please protect her. Please watch over her. Please take care of her…”
I jumped in the shower, but NOTHING can take away the pain. The tears keep flowing, the memories ambush my mind, and honestly I don’t know the last time I’ve felt like this… if ever I lost someone that has impacted my life to this capacity.
Our trainer texted me and I told him “I don’t feel like coming to the gym.” I can only count on 1 hand in my 15 years as a player ever saying that – this was my 2nd time. And, so I decided to grab my things and head over to my sister’s house. Weirdly enough, as I started to walk out I saw a peep of my travel bag in the bonus room and saw that my husband was lying on the couch. I dropped my bags, ran to the couch and squirmed into his arms, finally able to release the tears, the pain and everything I was feeling in my body onto his shirt. Shaking uncontrollably he kept asking “What’s wrong? Babe… what’s wrong?” I couldn’t say the words, and every time I tried, I cried harder and harder. Not really grasping how to say the words, and really not wanting to hear it again.
Finally, I calmed down enough to say… “Pat’s gone…”
Words can’t express how grateful I am to be able to have had the relationship that I did with Pat. From my 8th grade year, at age 13, she has impacted me in everything that I have done. My years in HS waiting to get that “letter” from UT to be deemed good enough to play for the one and only Pat Head Summitt. I still remember to this day and while it wasn’t her name on the card, it had Mickie DeMoss and Holly Warlick’s autographs on it, and I was officially hooked!
Pat has taught me about living with integrity. About always giving 100%- But, most importantly about how to FIGHT in every facet of life. Watching her over the last 5 years, my greatest memory is in the picture above. I’ve seen her countless times at throughout the years, and while you can see the Pat we know slip away, she was still physically there- physically here. Selfishly, I was cool with the fact that I could see her before and after every season. Although, death is the inevitable in all of our lives, I just never imagined it would happen- not to Pat. God please, please, please give us a miracle.
I got the call in Dallas on Friday morning. “Catch, you need to get to Knoxville ASAP! Pat’s not doing well and they don’t know how long she’s going to make it.”
Frantically I started checking the schedule. We played the Wings on Saturday, day off on Sunday and then to Chicago. I planned to leave on the first thing smoking to Knoxville.
Prepping myself to go and actually being there, silent tears fell down my face as I visited with Pat. Her eyes closed and her breaths hard and chopped. All I could pray was “God I want her here, but even more so I want her FREE. I want our Pat back and if it means releasing her, then Lord I release her.” The tears flowed harder, but sitting in that room with my Lady Vol family, we all knew that it was a matter of time and to savor each moment we could.
I laid my head on her shoulder and wrapped my arms around her one last time. I kissed her and then stood up to leave the room. I walked slowly, looked back, and wished that for one more time we could see Pat’s smile, her eyes, her nod of assurance that “Catch, it’s going to be alright…”
This pic says it all... I LOVE YOU PAT!! Thank you for everything!
You can never be prepared for this moment. But, what we can do is live each moment with the people we love telling them and sharing with them every time we have an opportunity. Pat, you have meant so much to me, my family and everyone that is associated with me to this day, through everything you taught me. The way you lived your life, the standards you operated by, the things that were (and have always) remained important to you, that’s why I am the person that I am today.
Over the last 20 years of my life, you have helped mold me, shape me and love me into the person that I am today. I’m so blessed to have had you in my life. While it’s not easy not having you here physically, I know you will ALWAYS be with me in everything that I do and all that I stand for. And, I also know that one day we will be reunited in Heaven. Thank you for everything that you represent and for always being my Calm through my Storms. I am forever grateful…
Thanks to all of the text, e-mails, phone calls, etc from everyone. It truly helps knowing there are so many that love and cherished Pat the way that I did. Your condolences and well wishes are appreciated and I'm so thankful for each and every one of you. Best wishes and God Bless!