Sun's Lawson Points the Way

On and off the court, Kara Lawson is comfortable leading the way.

As a point guard, Lawson led the University of Tennessee to three Final Four appearances, Team USA to a gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Games and the Sacramento Monarchs to a WNBA Championship. Off the court, Lawson is a top women’s and men’s college basketball analyst at ESPN and tireless contributor to important community and charitable organizations.

Lawson
Lawson points the way -- on and off the court.
So it was fitting when these two worlds merged with the recent announcement that Lawson and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had been named honorary co-chairs of the Pat Summitt Foundation Advisory board, tasked with strategically building and utilizing resources for the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

“After Coach Summitt announced that she had early onset Alzheimer’s, my husband [Damien Barling] and I decided we wanted to get involved in efforts to find a cure and help families with treatment and support,” said the Connecticut Sun guard after her appointment to the board. “My husband ran the NYC Marathon and I did the 5K and we raised some funds along the way. I also pledged $50 for every three-pointer I made with the Sun, and fans and other folks made similar pledges, which resulted in more donations. Then, when the Pat Summitt Foundation was founded, I was approached about being of the Board and ,of course, accepted and we rolled all of those funds into the Foundation and it all took off from there.”

This tends to happen with Lawson. The Alexandria, Virginia native surveys a scene, identifies the best path and leads the way. Whether it’s leading the Connecticut Sun to the Eastern Conference Finals like she did last season, or stepping up when a worthy charity needs help, it all takes off from her vision. As a result, the Pat Summitt Foundation, and by extension those battling Alzheimer’s disease, will benefit from Lawson’s proactive leadership.

“The Mission of the Pat Summitt Foundation is to support those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers and families,” said Lawson. “We need to find a cure. Efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s are not as well funded as other diseases and we need to address that. Having someone like Pat Summitt , who is living an active life, and still fighting, is great for awareness. Pat is such a powerful public figure.”

Lawson knows first hand how powerful a figure Summitt is, having known the legendary former Tennessee coach on a sporting and personal level for many years.

“Coach Summitt has been a huge influence on my life, going back to when she recruited me to attend the University of Tennessee,” said Lawson, who was heavily recruited out of high school, eventually choosing to go to Knoxville. “Even then, Coach Summitt stressed to me that when you commit to Tennessee it’s not a short-term, four-year decision, it’s a lifetime decision, you will always be welcome and a part of Tennessee.“

We need to find a cure. Efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s are not as well funded as other diseases and we need to address that. Having someone like Pat Summitt , who is living an active life, and still fighting, is great for awareness. Pat is such a powerful public figure. -- Kara Lawson

This strong bond to Tennessee and Coach Summitt did indeed surpass the traditional four-year commitment to a University for Lawson.

“Obviously, I don’t get to see Coach Summitt as much as when I was a 17-year-old kid playing on campus, but we’ve always kept in touch by phone and text, and when I get a chance to get down to Knoxville, we get together,” said Lawson. “We would always touch base, prior to the onset of the disease and now that she’s no longer coaching, we’re able to connect too.”

This tight relationship with Summitt has also extended far past the confines of the basketball court.

“Coach Summitt has been very impactful on my life. Any big decisions I’ve made in my life, since I’ve known Coach Summitt, I’ve discussed it with her,” said Lawson. “I value her advice and her opinion, not limited to sports, but just in life. We talk a lot and that’s important to me. One WNBA off-season I rehabbed down in Knoxville and it was great spending evenings with Coach Summitt while I was down there.”

Lawson, as one can imagine, values the virtue of hard work, simultaneously getting her body and mind sharp for another run at the WNBA Championship with teammate and reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player Tina Charles and new head coach Anne Donovan with the Connecticut Sun, while also handling the high-exposure gig as women’s and men’s college basketball analyst with ESPN.

“Being a professional athlete, there really isn’t an off-season, as I’m always working out and doing everything I can to get better on the court, to improve my game. It’s all about quality workouts and building off the previous season and getting better and better,” said Lawson, who had her best personal statistical WNBA season ever in 2012. “This is also my tenth year at ESPN covering women’s and men’s college basketball, which is a full-time job in itself, so I’m definitely keeping busy. It’s kind of like having two full-time careers going at the same time, which is a challenge, but I’ve managed to stay disciplined and I’m really enjoying both.”

Due to her extensive knowledge of the college game and her wealth of experience in the WNBA, Lawson has a unique perspective on two of the top women’s college players who may be coming into the WNBA for the 2013 season, Baylor senior Brittney Griner and Delaware senior Elena Delle Donne.

With Griner and Delle Donne, I think you’re looking at the evolution of our game. -- Kara Lawson

“With Griner and Delle Donne, I think you’re looking at the evolution of our game, and it’s really fun to watch. These are two potentially game-changing prospects,” said Lawson. “Griner has the most potential of any center I’ve ever seen coming into the WNBA. She will change what teams can run against whichever team ends up with her. There is no other player in the world with her potential. On the defensive end, again, teams will have to figure out how to run their offense against Griner. And her offensive game continues to grow. \You can try and front her, but if her teammates can make the right passes over that, it’s going to be really tough to stop her.”

According to Lawson, Delle Donne is also a special player.

“Delle Donne is about 6-5 and is just a superior player on the offensive end. She’s proficient behind the arc and with her ball-handling skills and ability to score, she is a unique player who will force teams to adjust to her game,” said Lawson. ”What’s really exciting about these two players is to see how they will play with and against the next level of player they will be competing with in the WNBA. Right now they’ve gotten their games to where they are with top college level players. The chance to see them with great, professional teammates is really intriguing.”

The future of the Connecticut Sun in 2013 is also intriguing as Donovan was recently named as the new head coach of the franchise. Once again, Lawson is a good source of information regarding Donovan, having played for her while winning an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA in 2008.

“I kind of know what to expect from Coach Donovan, and I’m looking forward to working with her,” said Lawson. “We know each other from the Olympics, not just on the court, but off the court ,and I think those relationships can be very valuable. We understand each other, each other’s strengths and tendencies and style. Anne is honest, disciplined and straightforward. There’s not a lot guessing with Anne. She let’s you know what she wants and expects.”

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