March 27, 1997
DEBBIE BYRNE: Please give us your name and affiliation before you ask the question and use the microphone. We have an opening statement from the coach.
PAT SUMMIT: I've been asked several times if it gets old going to the Final Four, and I can tell you no. It is a great feeling. I am really proud of our basketball team, and told them last night, thanks for getting Tennessee back to this position. We are looking forward to playing tomorrow night. We know Notre Dame is on a roll and we feel we are playing some of our best basketball. We had to play some of our best basketball of the season to get here. We are looking forward to it.
Q. Jeff with the Lexington Herald Leader. Coach, earlier in the year you took losses with people saying what's wrong with Tennessee. Even back then, did you see the potential for a Final Four team in this group of players?
PAT SUMMIT: When Kellie Jolly went down with an injury, I was concerned more so than ever about our chances to be a contender in March. I think when she returned to the floor we felt she and Laurie Milligan, we were obviously in that group of people that could make a run. Then Laurie goes down five games later. I never felt totally out of it. My concern in January is, we have to win enough games to get into the tournament. Once you get into the tournament, anything can happen. We played some of our best basketball in February. Once I saw we were in a position to make the pool, then I felt much better about our chances. Once I saw the bracket, I liked the bracket we were in because we were not playing against any SEC teams, and that's one situation that I really favored. Then obviously we knew we had a huge challenge ahead of us. I thought the possibility still existed that we could be in this position.
Q. Frank from the New York Times. A two part question. Are you surprised that Notre Dame has done so well? Part two, what do you have to do to beat them?
PAT SUMMIT: Well, I'm not really surprised they have done this well. When we played them in the N.I.T., I thought they dictated the tempo of that game. I watched Beth Morgan and with Katryna Gaither inside and Morgan outside, they have a great one-two game going. Looking at the fact they have four seniors, they have a veteran squad and I think they are just a solid club. The thing that I would say that we have to play our game, in defense and rebounding is key for us. We have to influence the tempo of the game. If we don't influence with our defense and our rebounding, it could be a long night for us.
Q. Coach, Jack from South Bend. Can you talk a little bit about how this tournament has grown in interest and popularity, exposure since the first one you went to in '82?
PAT SUMMIT: You wouldn't need a microphone in the press room. You have about four people in the front row and that's about the extent of it. Seriously, it is tremendous to have a sellout. Tremendous to have the type of media interest that we have. I think with ESPN, and the opportunity to tell the story of women's basketball. Just from a human interest standpoint, to get to know teams and players and coaches, have that background information and a buildup, if you will, to the Final Four, it has been tremendous exposure, great for the game. I think right now it is at an all-time high. I think it will even get better.
Q. I'm Jim from the Courier Journal in Louisville. This is for Abby. Can you talk a little bit about the middle of the season and the broken toe and how long it took you to recover from that, and also the end of the regular season, whether you consider that sort of a semi or mini slump and how you came out of it?
ABBY CONKLIN: I played the best ball of the season when I broke my toe. I broke my toe on Thursday and played Thursday against Vanderbuilt. It was frustrating because the way I broke my toe, I stubbed it on a couch. It wasn't an injury I suffered on the court. I felt I let my team down, but, I came out and played my best ball. Then I sort of got into, I guess, a slump. I wasn't moving, wasn't getting myself open, wasn't making shots. And then when we got in the tournament, I just started relaxing more. I put a lot of pressure on myself getting into the SEC tournament because I wanted to win that and basically I shot myself in the foot, you could say.
Q. I'm asking this of all the coaches. This is the first time since 1982, I think, that you have four women coaches here in the Final Four. I'm wondering if you think there is a significance to that and whether, perhaps, obviously Tennessee was ahead of the curve on this? But whether for a while, when some athletic directors saw this was a money-making sport, whether they were reluctant, perhaps directors hire women as the head coach.
PAT SUMMIT: I would say, just looking back and just knowing and talking with a lot of athletic directors, I think certainly in our sport we tried to give women an opportunity to get involved in the profession as a coach. You know, for me personally, I'm always trying to make a difference for young girls and young women. If they want to be in the profession, I think we need to support them. I'm not at all opposed to men coaching in our profession. If anything, I think it is a compliment to our profession that so many of the men out there really see this as a great career opportunity, and certainly now with the contracts, and obviously the resource has been much better today than ten years ago. I think you are going to attract men and women. I'm of the opinion that you help women throughout the whole process to stay involved in their sport. But certainly you hire the most qualified person in the end. If I'm an athletic director, I'm going to hire someone that's going to win, be it a male or female.
Q. Harvey from the New York Times. In that regard, how about opportunities for women coaches being in the men's game and have you ever discussed with your school the possibility of coaching men when that job became available?
PAT SUMMIT: Well, I discussed it with them. It was a very brief conversation. I'm not interested. You know, everyone views that as a step up. And I don't always view that as a step up. For Pat Summit to go and coach any men's program, I'm where I want to be. I love the women's game. Tennessee has provided me a tremendous opportunity. You know, I don't think I could have a better coaching position, whether it is in another institution, on the men's side or in the NBA. I just think I have a great situation.
Q. Tara Sullivan from the New York Daily News. People have talked about this as being a different type of Tennessee team with star power and Chamique. And have you felt different about how this season went compared to last year?
PAT SUMMIT: Early on Chamique had to carry an offensive burden. We asked her to do an awful lot of scoring, asked her to rebound. I really felt like the basketball team, for whatever reason, we lacked a commitment to really get the job done from the other four positions consistently. Therefore, I'm sure she probably felt a lot of pressure and we felt a lot of frustration. We are a different team now in the fact that we have a more balanced offense. Certainly it enhances our chances of winning when you get to this level and put us in a position to be here at the Final Four. The thing I will tell you about Chamique's game is, she is starting to guard people. I think she could be one of our best defensive players on our basketball team. The fact she is not feeling - she has to carry off every possession that allows her to concentrate more on the defense.
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: I think the difference between last season and this season is that I had Michelle to rely upon. I felt that's a role, the leader, that I'm not suited for yet because I lead by example.
Q. Baltimore Sun. A two part question. Do you traditionally schedule very difficult? This year you went out of your way to schedule difficult. In view of that, with injuries, can you compare the coaching job you did this year to get your team at to this point? Did you do an exceptional coaching job this year?
PAT SUMMIT: In terms of our schedule, there was a time I probably thought this schedule is really too tough for our personnel. But keep in mind, I don't think that you should pick and choose. I mean, what do you think Coach VanDerveer would have thought if I called her up and said, hey, Tara, let's skip a year. We will play in an another year, we are a little bit down, and then I said, Geno of UCONN, and call someone in Hartford and said we will skip a year and then play you guys. We are locked in and we are locked in for a number of years with some of the powers in the women's game. What we have to do is just make sure we have enough players to handle that schedule. While we struggled this year, I would say one of the big reasons that we struggled would have to be the injuries that we dealt with. I think if Kellie and Laurie are both healthy all year long, we don't come here with ten losses. But again, you look at our coaching situation. I'll tell you, I have a tremendous staff. When you have consistency, when you have loyalty and when you have knowledge, all combined in our coaching staff, we have over 80 years of coaching experience on the bench. And all you have to do is watch. I'm a sponge. I want to soak up what Mikki and Holly and Al give to me and come out with what I think is the best approach. My assistants just did an unbelievable job in preparing, particularly in this March run.
Q. Michelle Smith with the Oakland Tribune. Pat, do you like the way this Final Four looks with the old team of tradition and Notre Dame the new team and your team, Stanford? Do you like the way this looks and is it good for the women's game to have this variety?
PAT SUMMIT: I think when you have a situation where you don't always have the same four teams. I know last year we had the same four teams and a lot of people thought that's not good for the women's game. Certainly with the structure of the seeding this year, we knew we would have at least two new people on the scene. It depends on how you look at it. What I think is, you want great matchups. I think a lot of people would have preferred a Tennessee-UConn in the first year here versus a regional final. You talk about being a hot team in the first part of the year. The fact that you have new teams and a Notre Dame and a Tennessee that were not supposed to be here. I think that brings new people and new interests and that certainly can be healthy for the game.
Q. Steve Tucker from Chicago Sun Times. Kellie, how did you get back so fast from that surgery?
KELLIE JOLLY: Every day I had a program. Gene and the training staff really worked with me hard. I pushed as hard as I could to get back as early as I could.
Q. Kevin from the Daily Beacon. Also for Kellie. I know we bring up your injuries. In the regional you twisted your ankle and spent a couple of days in the training room, and were able to play. How are you doing percentagewise?
KELLIE JOLLY: Ankle was a little sore after the UConn game. I'm doing minimum rehab right now. Basically icing, and I'd say not 200 percent, but it feels really good right now.
Q. Kellie, have you ever imagined in October that you would be sitting here now, starting point guard on the Final Four team, and did you think your season might be over back then?
KELLIE JOLLY: I was hoping it wouldn't. But on the hard days, days where rehab wasn't that fun, it's hard to imagine that I would be sitting here right now. I think in the back of my mind I kept the hope alive and I kept believing that I could make it, and that this team would get there.
Q. This is a question for Pat and Chamique. With all the talk about the growth of the game and what's good for the women's game. Do either of you have any concerns or foresee a time when you will be dealing with one of the downsides with what the men's game deals with, which is players leaving early for the progame, and does that, particularly for Pat, does that cause you concern in terms of the game continuing to grow?
PAT SUMMIT: She is not going anywhere, if that's what you are talking about. You always worry about that. But I'm excited about the Pro league. I think it can be very positive for women's basketball in the growth of the whole process. I think eventually that's obviously what we will have to deal with. That's when I'll talk about our 100 percent graduation and you have to get your degree and point out all the positives, certainly, of being a student first. You look at a player like Chamique, and I think she could play in the league right now. I have Chamique's grandmother on the side and she tells me she wants her to get a degree. We want a couple of more Final Four appearances out of her, too.
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: I think that females shouldn't be allowed to decide to go pro. I think what the league needs is mature young ladies who have their degrees and who want to go further and play basketball as a career. And I think, also, by playing college you develop your name. Then by your graduation or go pro, it does a greater good for the sport of women's basketball.
Q. Laurie Nichols of the Chicago Tribune. First of all, do you expect to see a zone defense from Notre Dame, and also what will you do to try to defend Morgan Gaither at the same time?
ABBY CONKLIN: I guess we are probably going to see zone from Notre Dame. They played zone the other night in their regional championship, I think, the whole game, didn't they? I believe they zoned us when we played them in the N.I.T. Tournament. I think, you know, we have got to try and contain Gaither and Morgan. I don't think either one of them are players you could totally stop. I think it's going to have to be a team defense where we stop a lot of other players on the court and contain Gaither and Morgan.
Q. Liz from the Cleveland Tribune. This question is for Abby. Abby, can you talk about the role that pressure has had on this team? It seems that Tennessee does better under pressure. I think in '95, this team was under pressure to win the championship and you won it and now you are here.
ABBY CONKLIN: I think we have come in more relaxed. I know our game against UConn the other night and in warmups our team was very relaxed, and we weren't pressing like emotionally as hard on ourselves. I think in the past, I know my first year we didn't even make it here because we had so much pressure. Everybody has played at Tennessee for four years has gone to the Final Four. That's just a fact. We were looking at a class of people not going to the Final Four. And then they had a second chance, my sophomore year, and we got here. And I think everybody was just really happy to be here. We played a very good game, you know, and came up a little short there. But then the next year we were underdogs and nobody expected us. We were the number one seed in Virginia and they were talking about us being an underdog. I think our team likes the underdog role. There is not that much pressure.
Q. Abby, this is for you. Indianapolis Star. I know you and Beth Morgan have history of playing in some Allstar competition. Can you tell us about the relationship, that you have talked to her over the four years.
ABBY CONKLIN: In high school we were pretty good friends and didn't know her very well since until we were seniors. We played on a Allstar team together. I kind of compare her to Larry Bird. Rozanne Bohman and I played AAU together for two years. So I know the players on that team pretty well.
Q. Chamique, you said you are not quite comfortable with being a vocal leader. Is that something you aspire to be in your next two years?
CHAMIQUE HOLDSCLAW: Hopefully. Down the road and say I want to grow into that role. But right now I just kind of left it up to the seniors, Pashen and Abby.
Q. Pat, in the N.I.T. There are three of those teams that are here. Is that a big advantage getting to play those games early that pays off now in March?
PAT SUMMIT: Well, the N.I.T. helped us because we needed some Ws along the way. As I look back, particularly when we were 10 and 6, I said, boy, thank goodness we played the N.I.T. But I don't think necessarily that it had any bearing on our late run in March and how we are playing right now. The reason I wanted to play there was because of our back court situation, and certainly it helped Laurie get a lot of game experience before we entered into the brutal part of the schedule. I think that was what helped us but I don't think it was significant in terms of where we are today along with the other two teams.
Q. Pat, was there ever a point in this season, maybe after the second Louisiana Tech game in the tournament, that this might not be a Final Four for Tennessee?
PAT SUMMIT: I was so mad after the Louisiana Tech game that I couldn't see past Ruston. At that particular time I really felt like Louisiana Tech was one of the best teams in the country and we were overwhelmed by them. What I was concerned about was the immediate night was how we could play in the SEC tournament. I will say this, that after we got in the SEC tournament and we had three games there and had an opportunity at the end of the Auburn game, I felt, like to win that basketball game. Yet Auburn was on the roll and obviously went on to win the tournament. I really was optimistic at that point in time and not focused on the Final Four. Again, as long as I know we are going to be in the tournament, then I will wait until I get the bracket. What you are talking about, if you keep this in perspective, you are talking four games. And if your team can prepare in March, one game at a time, you have to say you have a chance if you are in the tournament in March. Our players believed. We didn't talk about Louisiana Tech. I was so mad that I didn't talk about it for a few days. We didn't talk about the Final Four. We went and practiced.
DEBBIE BYRNE: I will let them go, if there are no other questions. Thanks.
PAT SUMMIT: Thanks.
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