WASHINGTON - As bouncing leather balls and squeaking sneakers resonate throughout the practice gym at MCI Center, Pat Summitt leans on a railing overlooking the court.
She's not doling out orders today. There's no new defense to install. No one is the recipient of her patented "stare."
No, it's a more pacific venture than the one she has waged for 28 years as women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee.
This is a new ballgame for Pat Summitt.
"I'm just going to sit back and watch," she said from her perch. "I am feeling more and more of a connection to this team."
Summitt, who turned 50 last week, makes it clear that when the Washington Mystics hired her April 4 as player personnel consultant, there was nothing more to the job.
"I am not the GM. I am not the coach; Marianne [Stanley] is the coach and doing a fine job of it," she said. "I am strictly the player personnel consultant. I can watch players and if they want to ask my opinion, certainly, I'm here to help."
Summitt's helping hand was made available by an NCAA rule passed last August that gave universities greater autonomy over the actions of their employees. Thus the unprecedented relationship between Summitt and the Mystics.
The deal, for an undisclosed amount, has raised some eyebrows as to the ramifications and possible conflicts of interest.
"I was surprised that some of my colleagues were critical," Summitt said. "Obviously, I didn't do this to gain any sort of advantages. I think it's an opportunity to do what I love and see the WNBA from the inside."
When Summitt's "look" at the league began, she wasn't coddled through the start of her tenure with the franchise, which has struggled since the birth of the WNBA six years ago. It was a baptism by fire.
The scenario: Summitt and the Mystics' staff had two weeks to lay out every contingency for the April 19 WNBA draft, the most important in the team's history given its high picks.
"We looked at what we felt like the Mystics needed and how our respective choices met those needs," said Stanley, who was promoted from assistant to head coach. "We felt like this was a can't-lose situation."
The picks - Stacey Dales-Schuman (third) and Asjha Jones (fourth) are major reasons why the team is off to its best-ever start. Washington, 7-2, is at Miami today.
Dales-Schuman is second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.4 points a game. She's second only to WNBA All-Star and former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw (21.4 ppg).
Washington went 10-22 last season, forcing the resignation of coach Tom Maher and general manager Melissa McFerrin. Many credit Stanley, who won three national titles at Old Dominion in the '70s and '80s, for the team's about-face.
Some credit is also reaching Summitt, whose resume includes 788 wins (tied for first in women's coaching), 13 Final Four appearances, six national titles and induction in the basketball Hall of Fame.
"Her being involved has maybe given some confidence to the overall franchise," said Nell Fortner, coach of the Indiana Fever and ESPN women's college basketball analyst.
Tennessee women's athletic director Joan Cronan said it took months to work out the logistics of the consulting job. The idea was hatched in January, after Summitt turned down the Mystics' offer to become head coach.
"My concern was for the university and for Pat," Cronan said, "and I wanted to be sure that ... it wouldn't take much away from her season here."
Summitt's contract calls for only four consulting visits to Washington, ensuring her commitment to the Lady Vols, Cronan said. Two of those have been fulfilled by Summitt's appearance at the WNBA combine and draft. The remaining two have been set aside for team issues that might arise as the season progresses (like trade proposals or in-depth player assessments).
The somewhat informal contract allows Summitt to communicate with Mystics officials and visit the team, as she did a couple of weeks ago, as much as she wants. Or more realistically, when she has time to.
"If she called up tomorrow and said she could come, that would be great," Stanley said.
Summitt's arrangement with the Mystics hasn't necessarily opened a Pandora's box of amateur-professional relationships, but rather a few what-ifs.
One involves worries that a college might become a WNBA pipeline, meaning the coach's connection with the professional level could unfairly attract the best high school players.
Given the strength of the Tennessee program, concerns about unfair advantages for the Lady Vols seem far-fetched.
"No one's going to go out on a limb to say it's an advantage for Tennessee. The main reason is because they could recruit any time. They don't need an advantage," said Arkansas women's basketball coach Gary Blair.
Southeastern Conference commissioner Roy Kramer, who opposed the rule change, said colleges should be cautious in approving any similar arrangements that might pose a conflict of interest.