When the final buzzer sounded in Atlanta on April 8, Tennessee had lost more than the NCAA championship game and a chance to win Pat Summitt her seventh national title.
Kara Lawson and Gwen Jackson, the last of the Lady Vols' proven stars, had just wrapped up their final game in orange and white. And Mickie DeMoss, Tennessee's recruiting guru who helped bring Chamique Holdsclaw and Tamika Catchings on board, had just spent her last game on the sideline as an assistant.
Seven months later, DeMoss has left Knoxville, Tenn., behind and moved north one state, about 170 miles away to Lexington, Ky., where she's in her first season as head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. Tennessee coach Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols, of course, are expected to continue their winning ways -- they are ranked fourth in both preseason polls and Summitt's incoming recruiting class makes a good case for a No. 1 ranking. But with all due respect to Summitt's other assistants, DeMoss will be missed.
Over the years, DeMoss was much more than an assistant coach to the Lady Vols. She was their confidante, their shoulder to lean on, their ear when things weren't going their way. DeMoss brought a lot of fun, energy and excitement to the program, and that sort of relationship, communication and link between the players is hard to replace.
But more than anything, DeMoss' willingness to contradict Summitt will be missed. DeMoss was never afraid to tell Summitt what to do, or at the very least, offer a different point of view, such as suggesting Tennessee play zone on a few possessions. She was really good at offering up information to Summitt, and also really was the one who got Summitt to "let her hair down" a bit. DeMoss taught Summitt -- who for so long was just very serious and straight-laced -- to enjoy herself on the sideline. But don't expect neither second-year assistant Nikki Caldwell nor newcomer Greg Brown, who was hired in April, to feel comfortable telling Summitt what to do.
Holly Warlick, therefore, becomes an even more important fixture on Tennessee's bench. Warlick, who was hired at Tennessee the same year as DeMoss, will have a lot more responsibility this season, and I don't doubt that she can handle it. Warlick already has a beautiful chemistry with both Summitt and the players. Now the 19-year assistant just needs to step it up even more and be a bigger presence.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.