Tyler Summitt wants to coach

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tyler Summitt spent his entire childhood around gyms -- no surprise he wants to spend the rest of his life in one.

As the son of the NCAA's winningest basketball coach, he grew up making trips to the Final Four with his mom, Pat Summitt, and doing homework with the Tennessee Lady Volunteers.

"It was a lot of fun," Tyler says. "It was really different from my peers just because they would be at sleepovers, and I'd be in another state. It was like having big sisters. Now it's turned around, and I'm back with them except now it's kind of like I'm a big brother instead of their little brother."

Now a 19-year-old freshman, he is getting the coaching lesson of a lifetime. He works as a male practice player with the Lady Vols, hoping to walk on with the Tennessee men's team next season despite averaging just 2.8 points a game his senior year in high school. Tyler's ultimate goal is to become a college coach.

He already sounds like a coach. He's comfortable speaking up during practice, offering advice to players on improving shots or getting open.

Tyler noticed a difference in sophomore guard Alicia Manning after he worked with her in the middle of the season. It took Manning the first 22 games to score 83 points this season and then 10 games to score her next 83 points.

"Tyler has mentally talked me through a lot of stuff. I had a lot of frustration, and he was there just to talk me through it and let me know what Pat wants from me -- in a different tone," Manning said.

Pat Summitt said she put no pressure on her son to attend Tennessee, but says it's a good situation.

"It's nothing but positive for him," she said. "He's experienced so much. He was on my bench when he was 14 days old, and he pays attention. He wants to talk the game all the time. I mean, he wears me out."

Tyler was a part of Tennessee basketball even before he was born. Pat Summitt was at Michelle Marciniak's home in Pennsylvania in 1990, recruiting her eventual point guard when she went into labor with Tyler. She caught a quick flight to Knoxville to ensure her son would be born in Tennessee.

Marciniak says he may have helped soften Pat Summitt's icy stare.

"She had this cute little boy running around the basketball gym throwing the ball around," Marciniak said. "It's like she couldn't help it, it pulled out a side of her that could be so endearing and loving right there on the practice court."

Tyler has been a fixture around the Tennessee program since he was born: sitting on the bench during practice, traveling to away games and tournaments and volunteering during his mom's summer basketball camps.

It hit him during high school that he wanted to become coach after noticing the differences in the coaching styles of his mom, Tennessee men's coach Bruce Pearl and his coaches at Webb School in Knoxville.

"I started realizing how much I knew about the game and things like that. It really hit me that I wanted to coach," he said.

The 5-foot-9 former point guard had the opportunity to play at Division III Centre College in Danville, Ky. He also considered attending Vanderbilt, where coach Melanie Balcomb invited him to be a male practice player for the Commodores.

Though he seemed destined to be at Tennessee, he took an official tour of campus with his mom before making a decision since he only knew his way around the gym and athletic buildings.

"There was just one day where I was like, 'I belong at UT," Tyler said. "I feel like I wouldn't have had the same opportunities anywhere else that I do here. I wouldn't have known the players. They wouldn't have known me as well. I wouldn't get to travel."

He'll travel with the team during the NCAA tournament, though the Lady Vols begin play in Knoxville Saturday against Austin Peay.

The NCAA cleared Tyler to continue traveling with the team as a student, and Pat Summitt pays for his trips when he goes. He participates in every drill at practice as a defender, making the Lady Vols work for their shots and leading shooting drills before and after practice.

He had some concern about the nepotism label, that he'd only be known as Pat Summitt's son around campus. But his mom's celebrity status hasn't hampered him.

Connor Miles, a 19-year-old freshman from nearby Alcoa, Tenn., says most students who have followed Tennessee athletics have an idea who Tyler is, but they also tend to leave him alone.

In class, Tyler heads to the front row -- just as his mom instructs her players to do in their classes -- and takes copious notes, which he sometimes turns into study guides for the Lady Vols.

"He works really hard," said Miles, who shares a philosophy course with Tyler. "He comes in, he pays attention, he sits in the front row, so obviously he's engaged with the class. We have discussion sessions, and he's a big participant in those."

Tyler spends his time outside of class at every Lady Vols practice and every strength-and-conditioning workout, his sights on that walk-on spot on the men's team. He says he doesn't want it given to him because of who his mom is.

He takes the same approach to coaching.

Tyler keeps a notebook full of practice drills and plays that he's learned from various coaches. He picks the brains of the opposing coaches when traveling with the team. He hopes to earn a graduate assistant position with North Carolina coach Roy Williams and possibly do an internship with an NBA or WNBA franchise.

Pat Summitt's 1976 Olympic coach and mentor Billie Moore says Tyler will succeed because he is willing to work to achieve his goals.

"Every day he wants to do something that makes him better," said Moore, who retired as UCLA coach in 1993 and visits the Lady Vols a few times a season. "That's a pretty unique gift.

"There's no question for me that he will achieve his goal, and he will be very successful at it."