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Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt smiles as a banner is raised in her honor before an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Knoxville in this 2013, file photo.

For a few cruelly brief moments, Dane Bradshaw thought he was experiencing the first big highlight of his University of Tennessee basketball career.

Approached at practice one day by legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, his chest temporarily swelled with pride as Summitt told him, "Dane, you're my son Tyler's favorite player."

Then the real reason for approaching him left her lips.

"You need to start pulling up your shorts and tying them tight," she continued. "Because if you don't, Tyler will do the same thing."

Said Bradshaw as he recalled that conversation during Sunday night's "Toast to Pat" fundraiser at the Lookout Mountain Golf Club: "My shorts never fell down again from that point on."

As was repeated often during a succulent outdoor dinner serenaded by the matchless Dismembered Tennesseans, no one ever purposely fell down on the job in front of Summitt, whether it be a teenage Bradshaw, former UT football coach Phillip Fulmer or former Lady Vols athletic director Joan Cronan. They all toasted Summitt's legacy, along with Summitt Invitational chairman John "Thunder" Thornton and former Hamilton County mayor Claude Ramsey.

And the Toast/Invitational -- the golf tournament takes place today -- didn't let down the Summitt Foundation's need for money to combat the heartbreaking Alzheimer's disease the Hall of Fame coach is fighting. At the Toast's close, Thornton handed the Foundation a check for $75,000.

But the crowd of 200 or so may have been the big winner, not just for the food and fellowship, but for the stories Summitt's friends told regarding both her goodness and greatness.

Thornton remembered convincing her to speak at his alma mater, Tennesseee Wesleyan, and the four points she said must be practiced at all times to ensure success.

"No. 1, she said you have to have a great attitude," Thornton said. "No. 2 was to control what you can control. You can control when you get up in the morning. You can control what you eat. You can control how you treat people. No. 3 was 'Don't let anyone ever outwork you.' And No. 4 was, 'God only gave you one body -- take care of it.'"

And, oh, how Summitt tried to take care of her body and mind. In 2011, as Bradshaw was beginning to hear from college coaches wanting him to get into their business as an assistant, he called Summitt for advice, hopeful that she was now comfortable that he always kept his pants pulled up.

"She called me back within 24 hours," he said. "She told me she was at the Mayo Clinic for a few tests. She said it was nothing serious, just tests. But I realized later it was to get a second opinion about her Alzheimer's. There she was, going through the roughest time of her life, but she took the time to talk to me about a decision that would impact the rest of my life."

However, it's what she said to him that Bradshaw will never forget.

"I asked her if you could be competitive in the men's game but still do things the right way," he said. "She told me, 'It's pretty simple when it comes to morals: You never compromise.'"

Perhaps that's why Bradshaw runs Thornton's Jasper Highlands real estate development and works as a color analyst during basketball season for the SEC Network rather than working some SEC sideline as a coach.

Another story of her integrity: When Summitt first decided to go public with her Alzheimer's diagnosis, she went to Cronan to discuss how to break the devastating news to the public.

Hoping to protect Summitt and soften the blow to the Big Orange Nation, Cronan said, "Let's just say it's dementia. That sounds better."

Fired back Summitt, who was long credited with the most piercing, withering stare/glare in sports history: "What has this program always been about? Honesty. Integrity. The truth. We're going to call it what it is: Alzheimer's."

And for anyone wondering about Summitt's mental health these days -- she wasn't present for the Toast -- Cronan had a golf story from last fall.

"We come off a particular green," she began, "and I turn to Pat and I say, 'I think I had a 5 on that hole.' Pat looks at me and says, 'No, you had a 6, and I'm the one with Alzheimer's.'"

Nearly four years after coming forward with her diagnosis, Summitt reportedly has good days and bad days, much the same as most Alzheimer's patients. What bothers Fulmer and Erlanger hospital spokesman Rob Brooks is creating more funding and awareness to defeat the disease.

"It was important to partner with Pat," Brooks said. "We really believe we're on the cutting edge of this at Erlanger. But we need help. As we see people living longer, how do we make sure the mind survives? We shouldn't just be concerned with the length of life, but the quality of life."

Added Fulmer, whose mother has struggled with the disease for more than a decade: "Alzheimer's is not being addressed enough by our government. There's not enough money being given to research to slow this thing down."

A few years ago, Fulmer's middle daughter Brittany was beginning her collegiate athletic career as a diver for the Lady Vols aquatics program. Though she'd known Summitt for most of her life, she'd never seen her up close as a coach.

But before the start of practice her freshman year, Summitt was asked to address the team, which desperately needed a change of direction at the time.

"She said winning wasn't only about hard work, but being a team, pulling together as one," Fulmer's daughter said. "In one short talk, she sat 40 people down and changed our world."

Alzheimer's or no Alzheimer's, Summitt still is changing the world today. She just needs a little more help from her friends than she once did.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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