Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lady Techsters hope to peak again soon with Summitt leading the way

"Our fans, this program. We needed a lift in the worst way."

After the Lady Techsters first two losing seasons in school history these last two years, Leon Barmore---Techster Head Coach Emeritus---spoke the truth.
Tyler Summitt, Pat Summitt and Leon Barmore at press conference
in Ruston Wednesday, introducing Tyler as Lady Techster head coach

Barmore's emotion-laden comments came minutes after Tyler Summitt was introduced as the head coach of the Lady Techster basketball squad.  The 23-year old coaching prodigy of legendary Pat Summitt is the right man at the right time according to Barmore.

"I think he's the person God sent here. And we need him. I love his Mom and what they stand for... We're on our way back," Barmore said before stepping away, eyes full of tears. 

The bond between the Summitt family and the Lady Techsters goes back to the origins of Women's basketball at the Division One level.  Tyler remembers, as a 10 and 11 year old boy, riding in the front of the bus with the Lady Vols as they snaked their way through a throng of Lady Techster fans outside the Thomas Assembly Center.  "I think the bus driver slowed down quite frankly to let the fans boo us a little bit."

Barmore and the Techsters enjoyed early success against Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols, winning eleven of the first twelve meetings.  Barmore remembers the wins but he also remembers what took place afterward. "All eleven times she would come up and congratulate us and mean it and when they started beating the heck out of us pretty regularly, I congratulated them. I have always respected her and in fact, one of the reasons i stayed in the women's game was because Pat treated me so much better than anyone else."

Wednesday afternoon in the Wyly Athletic Complex, Pat Summitt, along with Tyler's wife AnDe and his father R.B., sat on the front row, with a smile a mile wide. Just having Pat Summitt in attendance is a minor miracle in and of itself.

In August of 2011, Pat Summitt shocked her fans and foes alike when she announced that she had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.  She remained with the team through that season, allowing longtime assistant Holly Warlick to handle many of the head coaching duties.  At the conclusion of the season, Pat stepped down and since then her public appearances have grown more rare.  

The pride Tyler Summitt has in carrying that last name and all the pressure that comes with it is evident.  His cheeks growing more flushed as the press conference wore on, the boyish Summitt spoke of the pressure of being a Summitt and a 23-year old coach being his ally. 

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He also drew the line of comparison between the Lady Vols and Lady Techster programs. "In a way, I feel like I grew up in the Louisiana Tech culture.  The more I read, the more I see... it's a championship culture every day. It may seem weird that Tennessee and Louisiana Tech are crossing paths. To me, it's fitting because it's that same tradition, that same championship culture."

Tyler Summitt also knows at such an early point in his career (he spent the past two seasons as a Marquette assistant coach, running their offense and out of bounds plays) he needs someone with experience on the court, on the bench and in recruiting.  He landed a whopper in former Lady Techster Mickie DeMoss, the first point guard in Lady Techster history who also had a hand in getting the women's basketball program started at Louisiana Tech. 
Athletic Director Tommy McClelland introducing Tyler Summitt

Barmore said, "In the last 25 years, Mickie DeMoss has been the best recruiter in the country."  DeMoss spent 1985-2003 on the bench with Pat Summitt as one of her prized assistants.  DeMoss also was the head coach at Florida and Kentucky before and after her time respectively, with the Lady Vols. 
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Tyler Summitt has had opportunities to take over a program prior to accepting LaTech athletic director Tommy McClelland's offer. Tyler would consult with his Mom to help determine when would be the right time to make the jump into the head coaching pool.
Lady Techsters in attendance

Tyler said he called her last summer and discussed openings and offers from UT-Chattanooga and Coastal Carolina.  This summer he called her to talk about a few offers on the table,"This school, that school... Louisiana Tech." 

He paused.

"Louisiana Tech?" Pat said on the other line. "Louisiana Tech! Leon and I had some battles down there!"

Tyler explained, "Mom was very excited."

Tyler is right.  The Lady Vols and the Lady Techsters are a lot alike. Their legendary head coaches share the same feeling for the future of women's basketball at Louisiana Tech.