Pat XO film debuts in Knoxville

Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt was the first celebrity guest to arrive for her ESPN film debut, and she chatted with media, posed for photos and received a standing ovation at the end of "Pat XO." Go inside for story and videos.

"Pat Summitt XO," a documentary film about the iconic Tennessee coach will be shown nationwide on July 9 on ESPN at 8 p.m. Eastern. On Wednesday evening, media and more than 200 invited guests watched the film's premiere at the Regal Theater in downtown Knoxville.

Summitt was the first to walk the orange carpet, accompanied by Danielle Donehew, co-founder of the Pat Summitt Foundation, and chatted with media members, posed for photos and signed autographs from startled regular moviegoers who suddenly realized who she was. Tennessee cheerleaders and two Smokey mascots greeted Summitt on arrival.

"That is just Tennessee," Summitt said. "That's what people do. They come out and support you."

Summitt was provided an advance copy of the film and had screened it already.

"Pretty much what I thought," Summitt said Wednesday. "I am excited about seeing it today. I wouldn't have done this if I didn't want to do it. I am real excited about it and appreciate everyone being here. … You can decide if you love it. Hopefully, you will."

Summitt fielded questions about son Tyler Summitt's recent marriage – "he loves it, loves it" she said – and whether or not any grandchildren could be on the way soon – "Oh no!" Summitt said – and how she is handling retirement – "I am very, very content," she said.

Representatives of the University of Tennessee, including athletics director Dave Hart and former women's athletics director Joan Cronan, followed and stopped for media interviews before proceeding to the special screening.

On the morning of the screening, Tennessee announced that Pat Summitt Plaza would be built at the entrance to campus off Neyland Drive. A bronze statue of Summitt will be part of the plaza.

"It's fitting in the sense that Pat Summitt is synonymous with women's basketball," Hart said. "The two go together in the same sentence. What she has meant to the game of basketball, it transcends women's basketball … what she has meant for women and athletics.

"She has set the tone, the example, and this will be a tribute to Pat in perpetuity. Fans will come from all over, not just Knoxville and Tennessee. This will be a destination for people to take pictures with Pat's statue and to honor her career."

"Pat XO" is part of ESPN's Nine for IX series that spotlights women in sports. John Dahl, executive producer of the series, and Summitt film directors Lisa Lax and Nancy Stern Winters also were in attendance.

"You're doing nine films, all directed by women, on women's sports-related topics, you've got to do Pat Summitt," Dahl said. "Here is somebody who for 40 years has been in our lives in some way. She has had such an incredible impact on, not just basketball and Tennessee or women's basketball in general, but sports.

"And even beyond sports we've seen now with the way she's taking on her latest challenge (of early onset dementia). She is inspiring a nation."

The directors sent small cameras to the participants and, upon their return, began the process of editing the contributions into a cohesive film.

"It was a challenge," said Winters, who added the idea came after a list of potential interviews mushroomed. "We decided we just have to interview everybody. We sent out dozens of cameras and we waited."

The film opens with narration by Tyler Summitt and then puts the camera in front of those who were "coached, taught, transformed and elevated by Pat Summitt," as noted in the opening moments.

"I think the connection with her son Tyler, through his eyes and through his narration and his connection with her, it brings out who she really is," Dahl said. "And I think that is just what she wanted with this film."

Summitt and her son flip through a coffee table book of her career in what serves as the film's anchor with anecdotes weaved into the story by those who know her best, including friend and author Sally Jenkins and former players Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Shelley Sexton Collier, Kellie Jolly Harper, and Michelle Marciniak. Peyton Manning, Van Chancellor, Billie Moore, Tennessee Martin teammate Esther Hubbard, longtime media relations chief Debby Jennings, Holly Warlick, Mickie DeMoss and Dean Lockwood also add to the film's fabric.

There are funny moments – Summitt's deadpan sense of humor is apparent – and ones that subdued the audience, such as when Summitt cries as the film draws to a close. The emotional moment is wonderfully lightened when Summitt's beloved labs, Sally and Sadie, take over the scene to comfort her, causing the head coach to laugh and apologize to the filmmakers for the intrusion.

"The only thing better than being her son is being one of her dogs," Moore said.

The film lasts about an hour and captures the essence of Summitt in a short time and amid an avalanche of tributes to the iconic coach since she retired a year ago.

"My wish is for everyone in the world to get a little bit of Pat Summitt," Lockwood said. "It would be a better world."

Both Lockwood and Warlick get emotional in the film, moments that caused moviegoers to fall silent seconds after laughing at a humorous anecdote – first-person accounts by Marciniak, her parents and DeMoss about Summitt famously going into labor on the recruiting visit are a highlight.

Summitt's diagnosis and retirement after her final season in 2011-12 are powerful film moments when told by those closest to her.

"It makes me angry as hell," Warlick said. "And then I turn around and I am emotional."

INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO

Joan Cronan

Dean Lockwood

Film directors Lisa Lax, Nancy Stern Winters

Pat Summitt arrives

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