NORMAN — There is a “wow” factor at Oklahoma when the name Pat Summitt is spoken.
Eyes grow wide, smiles spread and words like “legend” and “model” flow freely.
Tennessee head coach emeritus Pat Summitt shaped Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale and her players such as Whitney Hand, Jasmine Hartman and Joanna McFarland years ago.
On Sunday, Oklahoma will face Tennessee for the first time since a loss in Knoxville in January 2010. This Sweet 16 meeting will be the first time the Sooners will play the Vols without the legendary Summitt at the helm. After 38 years in charge, Summitt is in her first year as Tennessee's head coach emeritus. She announced August 2011 that she was diagnosed with early onset dementia.
“I don't know if there are any words,” Coale said of what Summitt did for women's college basketball. “No one will ever rival what Pat Summitt's done.”
As a junior high and high school player, Coale looked up to Summitts' teachings. When Coale was a head coach at Norman High School — from 1989 to 1996 — Coale said she studied what Summit did.
“Tennessee was one of the few women's teams that was ever on TV,” Coale said. “That's all I really knew about as a kid going off to play college NAIA basketball. ... As a high-school coach, I modeled much of what I did after the defensive (schemes) that she employed, which are really similar to Bobby Knight's defense and Mike Krzyzewski's defense.”
Coale went to seminars where Summitt talked about her “Definite Dozen”, or keys to success.
“She's just been instrumental,” Coale said. “There's probably not a single soul in our profession that she hasn't impacted in some way, shape or form.”
Take Oklahoma senior Whitney Hand.
Her freshman year was the 2008-2009 season. Hand calls that Tennessee game her favorite of all she's played, not just because she scored a then-career-high 20 points.
“I remember I was like, ‘I can't believe I'm playing against Pat Summitt,'” Hand said. “It was a dream come true. And she's just a classy, classy woman and her program's very classy.”
That game for Hand and then-freshman Jasmine Hartman was full of memories. It broke Sooner star Courtney Paris' NCAA-record 112 straight games with a double-double. It was supposed to be Summitt's 1,000 career victory. Hand remembered Tennessee had brought special game balls for the celebration. Coale remembered the national media.
“It was an amazing atmosphere and to play Pat Summitt — it was a milestone game,” Hartman said. “So we were really just excited about that game. ... Whitney Hand was making all those threes and just setting it on fire for us. I mean it was just a great game.”
Although that game kept Summitt from her 1,000th victory, the next season, Oklahoma went to Knoxville, Tenn., and lost.
Even though on Sunday the Sooners will not face Summitt's coaching directly, they said she has left a lasting legacy on that program and the way it plays. The Sooners still see the up-tempo game plan in film — and they're just as excited for Sunday to come even with Summitt being the head coach emeritus.
“It's just a legacy that no one can really touch,” Hartman said. “Once you see those eyes — I know her players talk about it all the time, but even on the television, just watching her eyes, you're like, ‘Wow I want to be like her. I want to be out there going to the camps and just being a part of the legacy that no one has touched yet.'”