Pat Summitt was one of the greatest coaches in basketball history and a legend in every sense of the word.
During her career, the Tennessee Lady Vols coach won more games than any coach in college basketball, men’s or women’s. She was named head coach of women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee at only 22 years of age and spent all 38 years of her illustrious career at Tennessee, winning a total of eight national championships along the way. She never had a losing season and won an astonishing 84% of her games.
In the Fall of 2007, I had the incredible honor of meeting Pat. It was a surreal experience, and one that I will remember for the rest of my life.
At the time, my uncle was the head basketball coach at a local middle school and received an invitation to a weekend-long coach’s clinic at the University of Tennessee. Luckily, he asked me if I’d like to tag along. During that weekend, we had the privilege of sitting in on two Lady Vols’ practices in a semi-private setting.
I had always been a huge fan of the men’s game, but I never paid attention to women’s hoops. However, this would change after I witnessed a Pat Summitt practice. I saw first hand why she was the greatest coach in college basketball.
Oddly enough, the things I remember most about those practices were not the drills, strategies, or techniques that were taught. What made the biggest impression on me were the displays of respect and attention when Pat Summitt spoke.
When she spoke, every single person in Thompson-Bowling arena stood at attention. People cleaning the floors, vendors, guards, every single person in the building stopped and listened to her every word.
After the first practice that weekend, my uncle and I hung around until most everyone had cleared the floor. We were both Vol fans, so we walked around and took a self-guided mini-tour of the arena. When we returned to the court, there were only a few people left, and one of those was Pat Summitt.
So there we were, in the midst of a legend.
Ya know how in the movies when an important character is introduced they have this aura or whatever glowing around them? I swear to you this exists in real life, and I saw it that night when I noticed Pat Summit standing across the court from me.
I remember the intense nervousness I felt as we approached her. Those who know me know that I am never at a loss for words, but that night I was rendered speechless. I was completely in awe of her presence and was almost afraid to even look at her.
I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of the cold stare for which she is so famous. However, as our eyes met, I saw nothing but warmth and a welcomed kindness. When she greeted me, I was only able to reply in muffled, incomprehensible sentence fragments. I’m sure I sounded like a bumbling idiot.
It was the only time in my life that I’ve been completely star-struck.
I think she recognized my timidness, a reaction she was probably familiar with, and she went out of her way to make me feel welcomed and comfortable. Coach had just finished up a three hour practice, and it was getting pretty late. I’m sure the last thing she wanted to do was sit there and appease a couple of fanboys. Yet, she treated us like we were the only people in the building, and spoke to us like she had known us for years.
On the court, she was an incredibly intimidating force. But off the court, she was so incredibly humble and down-to-earth. She signed autographs and took pictures with us without us even asking. She treated us like a part of her family. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and something that I’ll never forget.
Pat Summitt transcended the game of basketball. She was kind, humble, selfless, and a winner in all aspects of her life. Despite her amazing accomplishments, what stands out the most is the effect she had on the lives of the young women she coached.
She pushed her players to become the best versions of themselves on and off the court. I am blessed and so grateful that I had the tremendous opportunity to meet this legend. Unfortunately, Pat Summitt passed away in 2016, but her legacy will live on and continue to profoundly impact the lives of thousands of people for years to come.
Rest in peace, Coach.