Fever honors legendary coach Pat Summitt

July 30, 2009 | By Ericka Sanders

Pat Summitt is simply the best.

The women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee is much more than the woman you normally see scowling on the sidelines, coaching her teams to eight national titles. She’s an inspiration, not only to women but also to men and children.

Honored with the 2009 WNBA Inspiring Coach Award in recognition of her profound impact on female athletes, Summitt said what often lifts her spirits is the opportunity she has to make a difference in the lives of the student-athletes she coaches.

“It’s not about me or our staff, but it’s about helping them reach their goals, challenging them every day and inspiring them,” said the coach of 35 years. “It doesn’t just come from me but my entire staff.”

Honored alongside fellow coaches, teachers and cancer survivors, Summitt acknowledged that although her mother’s education stopped after the ninth grade, she is “the smartest woman I know” and received a round of applause from fans calling Fever coach Lin Dunn an inspiration.

“She’s a keeper,” she said.

Another keeper, Summitt said, is Fever star Tamika Catchings, whom she coached from 1998 until 2001.

“She’s the hardest working player I’ve coached; no one has ever out-worked her,” she said. “To see her continue to play and extend her career is amazing. She’s a team player. When you watch her play she’ll do whatever it takes, whether it’s dive on the floor for a loose ball, take a charge or take the shot.”

An icon in the basketball world and outside of it, Summitt is the winningest men’s or women’s basketball coach in NCAA history with 1,005 victories. Her Lady Vols have more Kodak All-Americans (19) and Olympians (12) than any college program. She’s also coached 10 first-round WNBA Draft selections and 30 WNBA players.

“What is more important is that she leads with her heart and soul,” WNBA President Donna Orender said in a statement. “Her commitment and dedication to the development of women’s sports and her passion for inspiring young athletes to achieve their dreams has been a source of inspiration to us all.”

Summitt says one of the main ingredients to her success is recruiting, and she’s done plenty in Indiana. Miss Indiana Basketballs she’s coached include Abby Conklin, April McDivitt, Shyra Ely and Shanna Zolman-Crossley. Hoosiers currently on her roster include Brianna Bass and Sydney Smallbone.

To be called an inspiration and be recognized as such, Summitt said, is humbling.

“I feel like it’s important for me to be a role model,” she said. “When people reach out I want to be there.”