SEC, alumni embrace "We Back Pat"

Florida's Amanda Butler and Tennessee's Holly Warlick helped honor Pat Summitt on Thursday. UT Athletics Photography

Tyler Summitt says one phrase is a favorite of his mom's every time she hears of another effort to raise funds for the Pat Summitt Foundation: "That's awesome!"

The foundation's mission to fight Alzheimer's disease is a year-round objective that is getting special attention during this "We Back Pat" week. Teams nationwide are participating in fund-raising and awareness for the fight against the disease that Pat Summitt was diagnosed with in 2011.

"I think it's something that Mom knows is bigger than her," said Tyler, who is an assistant coach at Marquette. "Even if people get involved to support her, it's for the cause. It warms her heart to hear when somebody is jumping on board. It really does make her proud."

Sunday, the ESPN networks will highlight the Pat Summitt Foundation during the broadcasts of three SEC women's basketball games. It starts with No. 10 South Carolina at No. 16 Vanderbilt (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 2 p.m. ET), followed by Auburn at Florida (ESPNU and WatchESPN, 3 p.m. ET) and No. 11 Tennessee at No. 17 Texas A&M (ESPN2 and WatchESPN, 4 p.m. ET).

Thursday, the Lady Vols had their own "We Back Pat" game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., that honored the program's head coach emeritus. The Lady Vols bounced back from a loss Monday to Notre Dame with an 89-69 victory over Florida.

Pat Summitt's longtime assistant Mickie DeMoss, who is now an assistant for the WNBA's Indiana Fever, was on hand for both of those games.

"I know it means a lot to Pat," DeMoss said, "anytime she can see the support from women's basketball across the nation, but particularly in this conference that she's been a part of for so many years. It's a cause and a purpose that helps drive her every day, to try to help other people with any form of dementia. When she sees people with the 'We Back Pat' shirts on, it's very touching to her."

Among the SEC contributors to the foundation are Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell, who worked for Summitt at Tennessee earlier in his career. He and his wife, Jenna, pledged to donate $2 through the Mitchell Family Foundation for every fan in attendance at the Wildcats' games Thursday and Sunday.

Pat Summitt has been particularly proud of the efforts made by former Tennessee players to support her foundation. That's a lengthy list.

WNBA players Kara Lawson, Tamika Catchings and Shekinna Stricklen pledged money for 3-pointers they made during their seasons. Lawson and her husband, Damien Barling, raised funds through participation in the New York City marathon, an effort Michelle Marciniak also participated in that has raised more than $25,000.

Candace Parker and Glory Johnson are other WNBA players who've made contributions. Current Tennessee assistant Kyra Elzy and her husband, Dexter Lander, started a campaign last season -- which continues this year -- in which she, other coaches and fans pledge money for every Lady Vols SEC win.

Chamique Holdsclaw has given a portion of proceeds from sales of her book. And the Summitt foundation recently received a gift of $20,000 from an anonymous former Lady Vol.

"Once you're part of the Tennessee program, you know that it's more than a program," DeMoss said. "Pat always cultivated an atmosphere that you were part of a family, and it's much larger than just sports. You care about each other. That was part of our whole teaching process.

"And I think since this has happened with Pat, it's provided a lot of people an opportunity to give back to her, after how much she's given to so many people."

Tyler said he has had his awareness raised a lot by his mother's illness in terms of just how many people are impacted by Alzheimer's, either directly or through a family member or loved one.

"Almost everybody is somehow affected by it," he said. "I feel God gave us this platform, and we can help give people courage to face this."