The news that Pat Summitt was stepping down as the Tennessee Lady Vols’ basketball coach didn’t shock former player Angie Bjorklund like the revelation last year that the legendary coach had early onset dementia.
“My heart broke when I heard the news,” recalled Bjorklund, a two-time Washington Player of the Year for University. “I knew the decision she made would be best for her, best for her family, best for the Lady Vols’ program.”
Summitt made the announcement on Wednesday. Bjorklund, who is back in Knoxville, Tenn., after playing in Israel, graduated in 2011 and was a member of Summitt’s eighth and final NCAA championship team in 2008.
Summitt, just 59, is staying with the program as head coach emeritus with long-time assistant and former player Holly Warlick taking over as head coach.
“I’m glad she’s sticking around the program,” said Bjorklund, who will spend the summer coaching in Tennessee before playing overseas again. “I think it’s good for the team. She’ll help as much as possible. I know she loves it.”
Warlick was a three-time All-American and has coached at UT for 27 years while Summitt was compiling a 1,098-207 record in 38 seasons. Bjorklund was a captain when Summit won her 1,000th game.
Summitt’s team played at Gonzaga when Bjorklund was a sophomore after the Bulldogs played in Knoxville a year earlier. Summitt scheduled those games because Bjorklund’s older sister Jami was playing for the Bulldogs. The defending national champions won 77-58 before 6,000 fans at McCarthey Athletic Center on Dec. 30, 2008.
The teams also met in a tournament in the Virgin Islands early in the 2005-06, when the Hall of Fame coach shared a late-night pizza with GU coach Kelly Graves.
“She’s such an iconic coach and made so much of an impact on the game,” Graves said. “She’s changed the perception that girls are just girls. She’s changed how the game is played.”
He added that Summitt has done as much for the women’s game as the late John Wooden and others did for the men.
“She has the persona on TV, then she has the persona with her colleagues and it’s entirely different,” Graves said. “I’m going to miss her.”