Women's basketball legend Pat Summitt dies
The first thing I recall is setting up an interview with her back in 2002 for a feature I was doing on Diana Taurasi. When she called she asked me if it was OK if she called me from her home as if a legendary figure like her needed my permission. Then in the middle of the interview she couldn't apologize enough when one of her dogs was barking up a storm. I recall how much it meant to me when she made it a point to come over and shake my hand when I passed by her at one of the last WBCA High School All-American Games. I also remember how she answered my question about which of her assistant coaches were responsible for game planning for Taurasi's 40-foot shots in the tongue in cheek manner with which it was asked. When family members and people outside the journalism business would ask me about covering the UConn women's basketball, it wouldn't take long for the "what is Pat Summitt like?" question to be asked. When I said she had one of the best sense of humors of any coach I've dealt with they were always shocked to hear that. There are those who think of her incredible intensity, her legendary glare but there are so many other facets to her personality that enabled her to touch so many people.
I was fortunate enough to cover 12 of the 22 games between UConn and Tennessee and she was the same following the seven UConn wins as she was in the five games her team won. Charming, insightful, classy would be the words I would use to describe her dealings with the media. She understood our role in the world of women's basketball and always held up the end of her bargain and then some. There was a situation last year when I waited for a high-profile coach after a UConn game and was told they did not conduct interviews once the press conference was done. That is something that never would have happened after one of Pat Summitt's games.
Yesterday Geno Auriemma said that Summitt was synonymous with women's basketball and he is absolutely right. Her accomplishments are incredible but it was her class and dignity as well as the desire to do whatever she could to promote the sport of women's basketball that really set her apart. She will be recalled for her 1,098 victories and eight national championships but those are not why the women's college basketball world is mourning today as the sport lost one of its irreplaceable figures.
UConn sent out a release with a statement from head coach Geno Auriemma.
"Today is a sad day for me personally and for everyone in the women's basketball community. One would be hard-pressed to name a figure who had a more indelible impact on her profession than Pat Summitt. Pat set the standard for which programs like ours dreamed of achieving, both on and off the court. Our sport reached new heights thanks to her success, which came from an incomparable work ethic and a larger than life, yet, compassionate personality. But her legacy is illustrated most clearly by the Lady Vols who went on to achieve greatness in basketball and in life. "
Also, here is a statement from the Connecticut Sun sharing the thoughts of Shekinna Stricklen, who played for Summitt at Tennessee.
“It hurts. This whole situation has been very difficult. She meant a lot to me. She was a teacher on and off the court. It was an opportunity and a blessing to play for her. She really helped me grow up and become a woman. She always told me to stay loyal and respectful, and she always treated everyone the same. What you saw in these finals days was what Pat Summitt was as a person. She did not give up easily, and she went out on her terms, not on anybody else’s terms.”