Nicky Anosike finds closure in classroom

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

When the University of Tennessee needed an instructor for a Pat Summitt leadership camp for teenagers a year ago, a former player stepped forward. What Nicky Anosike didn’t know then is how much she needed the camp.

The course, offered by the University of Tennessee as part of the Kids U summer camps, is back in 2023 and is called “Pat Summitt Definite Dozen Leadership Program.” Enrollment for Anosike’s camp from July 17-21 for rising 9-12th graders is available here. It centers on Summitt’s 12 leadership maxims called the “Definite Dozen” and features videos and photos of the iconic Lady Vols basketball coach.

Summitt passed away seven years ago today on June 28, 2016, at the age of 64, less than five years after she was diagnosed in 2011 with early onset dementia. Summitt, who won eight national championships at Tennessee, coached her final season in 2011-12. Anosike played for Summitt on the final two national title teams in 2007 and 2008.

“It really was a sense of closure listening to Pat as she spoke in each of the videos and going back over everything that was my life for four years while I was a Lady Vol,” Anosike said. “It was therapeutic. I found myself crying in the middle of class.

“It took me back to a place where I really, really missed my coach. The students were looking at me like, ‘Ms. Nicky are you OK?’ And I’m like, ‘I just need a moment.’ ”

Anosike first taught the five-day camp class in 2022, and a column here explains the course in detail and Anosike’s path from Tennessee to professional basketball to teaching to returning to Knoxville to coach.

Luchi and Mez explore their mother’s classroom during setup in 2022.

Part of Anosike’s journey included a three-year stint as a teacher in middle school in St. Petersburg, Florida, and one year at Anderson County High School in East Tennessee. Getting back in the classroom a year ago boosted Anosike’s spirits.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” she said. “Teaching high school students is a little more challenging than middle school, because high school students they’re kind of too cool, they don’t want to act like they’re super into it. But these high schoolers were jumping up and down, screaming, high fiving as we did the activities.

“It really made me miss teaching. My favorite part of teaching is the light bulb going off and seeing the look on their faces when they really get it and connect with the material. I had a week full of that.”

Anosike will seek to recreate the week, and the course will offer new elements for any students who repeat it from a year ago. The Summitt-centered coursework focuses on kids who play basketball, but Anosike revised it a year ago to apply to all students not just athletes.

“I had to rework the entire curriculum,” Anosike said. “One week wasn’t enough to really get everything in, so I found myself cutting stuff out. This year, I plan on incorporating a lot of what I had to cut out.”

Nicky Anosike with twins Luchi and Mez.

Anosike had to step away from teaching and coaching nearly two years ago after enduring a difficult pregnancy to have twins that forced her into a hospital and then months of medical ordeals as one of the babies fought for his life.

Anosike and her husband, Uzochukwu Chidinma Chima – he goes by Chima – celebrated the second birthday of their sons, Cheluchi and Chiemezie, on June 5.

Luchi, who weighed 2 pounds and 15 ounces at birth, is now 41 pounds and wears 3T clothes. He needed stomach surgery as an infant to allow him to properly absorb food.

“He was so tiny,” Anosike said. “It was a scary time.”

Mez is 49 pounds – the percentile charts for his age don’t even accommodate his measurements – and wears 4T clothes.

“They’re both thriving,” Anosike said. “They talk to each other. They have their little language but they don’t include me in on the conversation. They’re hitting all their milestones, and they literally are growing out of everything.”

Anosike earned three bachelor’s degrees from Tennessee as an undergraduate, completed a master’s degree at Tennessee while serving as a graduate assistant for the Lady Vols and started an online PhD program right before she got pregnant. She put that degree on pause for a year when the twins were born in 2021 and restarted it just before their first birthday. Anosike will graduate in May 2024 with a doctorate degree in public policy with a concentration in economics.

“I want to focus on Title IX, which is  the perfect mix of sports and public policy,” she said. “My dissertation is on the benefits of Title IX since its passage in 1972, but it’s focusing on the fact that Black women have not benefited equally from the legislation, and they have not benefited as much as white women have and the reasons why.”

To say that Summitt would be proud of the woman that Anosike has become is an understatement. So, why does she think the camp made her cry a year ago?

“I think it was emotional because I never really dealt with it,” Anosike said. “I was playing pro ball, and we got the news that she had early onset dementia and then things went really quickly from there. That next year I saw her at the ESPYs, and she had no idea who I was.

“It was shortly thereafter that things deteriorated and then we all got the call that she was gone. We had the celebration of life here in Knoxville and I went, but I never slowed down to really try and understand what her being gone actually meant. Not just for Nicky the player, but for Nicky the woman, Nicky the mom, Nicky the employee, Nicky in every other aspect. I think during the camp I realized just how much I was missing with her gone.

“Seeing the pictures of her holding (son) Tyler up after the championships and seeing them up on the ladder, cutting down the nets and remembering that she was a mom and now I’m a mom. I don’t get to call her and ask for advice. I don’t get to bring my kids by to see her, and it hit me that she’ll never see this side of me.”

Maria M. Cornelius has been writing about the Lady Vols since 1998 for various publications. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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