Wins, glare do not begin to define Summitt
CAMPUS CORNER — I made a joke yesterday about Bob Stoops‘ glare at reporters as they ask questions and he responds.
No offense to Bob, but no one has a steely glare like Pat Summitt. It’s been noted in print over the years, but, trust me, it doesn’t do it justice. Fortunately for us media types, Summitt (mostly) reserves The Look for her Tennessee players.
I have thought a lot today about Summitt, who revealed she has early onset dementia – something that might (might) cut short one of the longest-running, successful coaching tenures in any sport. Let’s hope, really hope and pray, for medication to slow, treat and cure Summitt of this horrific, unfair mental erosion.
My grandmother and her mother both have/had Alzheimer’s, a cousin of dementia. As anyone who has dealt with it on any level knows, it takes over not only the victim’s life but the lives of immediate family members. I’m grateful every day for my aunts and dad, who have worked tirelessly through the frustration of seeing my grandmother – a wonderful lady, maybe the most inspiring figure in my life – disappear a little more every day. It’s hard. It’s hard to comprehend.
To think of someone as sturdy as Summitt dealing with this … it’s heartbreaking. It is. My thoughts and prayers are certainly with her and her family.
How many people can say they helped create a sport? I remember hearing Summitt tell stories about her, as a 20-something, fresh off the farm in Martin, Tenn., hauling the Lady Vols around the country in a van. She’d play anyone, anywhere. There are no vans anymore, but the same attitude is there. Who hasn’t she scheduled a home-and-home with? (Sherri Coale and OU have been to Knoxville a time or two.)
People want to make distinctions between men’s and women’s basketball – and they’re different games, no doubt – but don’t make a distinction between Summitt and a basketball coach. Or Summitt and being tough.
Whenever UT’s men’s program has needed a coach, Summitt’s name always comes up. That in and of itself says a lot to me. If someone could handle whatever would come along with that – and it would be a lot – it would be her. But she always sort of laughs at that notion of coming to the men’s game. She declines, saying it would be too much about her and not the team and school. And she’s right.
But Summitt isn’t just tough. She isn’t just basketball-smart. She’s nice.
That’s something to stop and consider. Because that isn’t all that common. Less common than toughness and/or hoops sense.
When I was at Tennessee, I covered the 2001-02 and 2002-03 teams for the Chattanooga and Nashville newspapers. I was 20, 21 years old. And, yet, Summitt treated me the same as she would treat journalists who had been in the business for decades. She welcomed the coverage for a sport trying to grow. But it was more than that. She was personal and personable.
When Summitt won her 900th game (she’s won a bunch more since then), I was living in Atlanta, covering the Braves. I wrote her a short note telling her congrats, updating her where I was and thanking her for treating me so well in my time with the team. It was January of either 2005 or 2006, and I didn’t expect her to write back at all, let alone anytime soon.
But she did. A couple of weeks later. During the SEC season. It was hand-written.
Here it is:
So, while The Glare might get the attention of many, it’s not what I think of when my mind goes to Summitt. It’s that card. It’s those days sitting, chatting after practice at Thompson-Boling like I was the Hall of Famer and she was the journalism major.
Here’s hoping this isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds and Summitt crosses a few more 100-win thresholds, setting the number so high that no one, man or woman, gets anywhere near Summitt’s summit. She is 1071-199 in her career. I don’t care what you do, if you succeed 84.3 percent of the time, you’re doing well for yourself.
Succeeding like that with class? That makes Summitt unbeaten in my record book.
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