by Malcolm Butler
Actions speak louder than words.
It's a cliché. Wiley Hilburn would mark the first line of this blog with a blue felt tip pen. He hated when his student's used clichés in their writing.
I know. I got plenty of blue marks from Wiley. And I learned from every one of them.
As an impressionable young man during my time as a student at my beloved alma mater, it took people like Wiley Hilburn and Keith Prince to slowly mold me into what I hope is a well-rounded, caring individual.
No matter how hard our parents work, it also takes people outside of our family to help give the direction we need.
New Louisiana Tech Lady Techster coach Tyler Summitt is only 23. I think that fact has been well-documented since he was hired in April.
However, take it from someone who has been around the LA Tech program on a daily basis for the last 15 years; Tyler is the right man at the right time for the job of taking over the reins of such a prize of a program.
Tyler is wise far beyond his years. And he is instilling virtues within his current players - establishing a healthy and productive culture - that will ultimately lead to success on the court, in the classroom and in life.
These are the five building blocks that will serve as the foundation for the Lady Techster program under Summitt and his new, energetic, hard-working staff: family, belief, toughness, competition and character.
Tyler preaches these every single day. His message is always the same. He talks the talk. But best of all, he walks the walk.
On Tuesday evening, I had another opportunity to see this. Tyler and his wife AnDe, the coaching and support staff and 11 Lady Techster players (the ones who are taking the second session of summer school) travelled across town to visit and play games with some of the residents of the Princeton Place, a rehabilitation center and nursing home in Ruston.
It was a chance to embrace members of the community.
"We think it's important to teach our student-athletes to be grateful and not take things for granted," said Summitt. "This was a great opportunity to give back to the community and specifically to interact with these wonderful people. Our kids had such a great time, and they loved meeting some of the residents. I think it was a rewarding experience for everyone."
Although the age difference between the players and their new found friends was significant, the ability to connect came rather easily.
The first order of business upon arriving was a very important introduction. Longtime Ruston Daily Leader executive sports editor Buddy Davis - a recent LA Tech Athletics Hall of Fame inductee - is currently a resident at Princeton Place as he continues his rehabilitation from last summer's stroke.
Buddy has written more words about the Lady Techster basketball program than any man, woman or type-writer alive (or deceased).
Introductions were quickly made. I had the privilege of providing a brief bio on Buddy to the current ladies who all seemed to have an instant respect for our rock star scribe. Even 17-, 18-, and 19-year-olds understand the significance of successfully working in any field for 50 years.
One-by-one the girls shook Buddy's hand - the one he still uses to pen weekly columns about LA Tech Athletics and Lincoln Parish sports in general - and introduced themselves. The group then gathered around Buddy and his souped-up wheelchair and camera's started to flash. Everyone was smiling, but the biggest cheese came from Buddy. The visit in my mind was already a success.
Whitney Frazier agreed.
"I really enjoyed Buddy Davis," said the Techster senior-to-be. "He gave me so much life and joy when I met him. He even gave me tips on how to perfect my throw in horseshoes."
Following the photo session, the ladies headed down the hall to meet other residents while Tyler stayed and talked sports with Buddy. It was the first real opportunity for the two to visit in depth, and they instantly hit it off. Not surprising considering the two have a past that is interwoven through the LA Tech-Tennessee rivalry.
While Buddy and Tyler chatted, I snapped a few more pictures. Buddy took Tyler into his room and showed off his gallery of pictures hanging on the wall that is a who's who of professional sports. Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. Derek Jeter. George Stone. Nolan Ryan. Kim Mulkey (surprise). Tom Landry. Karl Malone. Terry Bradshaw ... and the list goes on.
Pat and Tyler Summitt will soon join the wall of fame as Tyler presented Buddy with an autographed picture of he and his mom taken while cutting down the nets following one of Tennessee's national championship wins. It's definitely something Buddy will treasure.
As we left Buddy's room and headed to join the rest of the party, laughter saturated the hallway as the girls were already high-top deep into playing games with about a dozen residents. The entire room was alive; 20-year-olds and senior citizens enjoying each other's company.
The girls were very cognitive of their surroundings. Some sat, visited and got to know their new friends. Others played a balloon game, doing a wonderful job of actively involving those residents that wanted to play. Others played dominoes.
"They were fun to be around," said sophomore Kevione Moten. "And I know just by their expressions on their faces that they enjoyed us as well. They kept asking us to come back. I thought it was kind of cool on how they want to see us again."
Buddy sat off to the side, still talking to Tyler and watching the interaction like it was a prized fight he was covering for the Leader.
"It was a wonderful, fun time spent with these wonderful ladies," Buddy said. "I know everyone at the Princeton Place appreciated Tyler, members of his staff and the players taking the time to provide some laughter and good will with the residents here.
"They are an outstanding group of young women who are going to make Tech and the community proud. Their energy and enthusiasm is off the charts."
A few games of horseshoes followed. It quickly became evident why the LA Tech ladies played basketball, and not horseshoes. After watching Frazier come up empty on eight straight tosses, Buddy pulled the El Dorado native off to the side. His instructions were clear, and come to find out, effective.
The all-conference performer landed a ringer on her next toss, strutted around like she just hit the game-winning shot and gave her new coach a high five.
"Whitney Frazier has the makings of a champion in horseshoes if she is willing to follow my advice," Buddy said. "By the time she left Princeton Place, her form was starting to come around."
The hour went quickly. I scanned the room near the end of our visit. I realized how impactful this was for some of the men and women of Princeton Place. An energy and excitement filled the room. It was written on everyone's faces.
I think it might have meant even more to the LA Tech players. Although these ladies wouldn't walk away from the evening with any stats or tangible victories, they left with something even more important - a life lesson.
"Spending time with these wonderful people really made me appreciate family time," said newcomer Ashley Santos. "I love spending time around my loved ones, including my family back home in Chicago, as well as my new family here in Ruston. Tonight reminded me to appreciate the little things in life."
Chalk up a small victory for Tyler Summitt and his goal of developing his players into champions on and off the court.