Pat Summitt cut down the nets eight times during her outstanding career at Tennessee, but her legacy transcends wins and losses.
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Summitt's Influence Extends to Storm
When Pat Summitt stepped down as head basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, moving into the specially created position of head coach emeritus, she left behind an unparalleled legacy on and off the court. The legend finished her career with 1,098 wins - the most by any college coach, male or female - eight NCAA championships, and seven NCAA Coach of the Year awards. More than the numbers and the success, however, the careers Summitt helped launch are testament to her impact on women's basketball.
Summitt's influence can be felt throughout the WNBA, and the Storm is no exception. In Assistant Coach Nancy Darsch and rookie Shekinna Stricklen, two members of the Storm organization benefited from Summitt's teaching at very different points in her career.
Darsch was around for the beginning. She first met Summitt in the summer of 1976, when they both worked basketball camps in Pepperdine. Darsch and Summitt - the later fresh off winning a silver medal in the Olympics to cap her playing career and entering her second season as a coach- were just out of college, and the fledgling world of women's college basketball was starting to take shape in the wake of Title IX.
Back then, the Lady Vols operated on a shoestring budget. Summitt's only coaching help came from a graduate assistant through the PE department. Darsch, who was looking to go to graduate school, stayed in touch with Summitt and took the position in the fall of 1978. She took classes, taught PE and served as assistant coach - which meant more than just crafting gameplans and helping with practice. Summitt and Darsch did everything, like driving the team in two vans on road trips. Darsch remembers one trip in particular, a holiday tournament at Mississippi University for Women.
"One van was full of luggage and two people," recalled Darsch. "The other van was the rest of the team and whatever staff - I think we traveled with the SID and the trainer. Pat drove one van and I drove the other van. It was difficult to keep up with her, No. 1. No. 2, we lost in the final of that tournament to Ohio State and it was even more difficult to keep up with her then. Usually, Pat drove the van with the luggage. Not this time. She controlled the conversation and everything that went on with the players."
Darsch was there by Summitt's side as the Lady Vols emerged as a women's basketball powerhouse, reaching the Final Four five times in six years. All along, Darsch was soaking up knowledge as she prepared for her own coaching career.
"It was like a clinic every day," said Darsch. "I told the team something today I learned from her however many years ago that was. I can't even tell you how much I've learned from her. It's all blended together. I don't know what's mine and what's hers."
In 1985, Darsch set out on her own, taking the head coaching job at Ohio State. The following season, Summitt earned her first national championship in Tennessee's eighth trip to the Final Four. Before she began her pro career, which has included stints coaching the New York Liberty and the Washington Mystics, Darsch's path would intersect with Summitt's. Darsch's Buckeyes were on the losing end of Summitt's 500th career victory in the 1993 State Farm Hall of Fame Game. Summitt showed her protege no mercy in an 80-45 blowout.
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Shekinna Stricklen was part of Pat Summitt's final graduating glass at Tennessee.
By the late 1990s, Summitt had achieved perfection. During 1997-98, the last of three consecutive championship seasons, Tennessee went 39-0 - a record unsurpassed until Baylor finished 40-0 last year. In Arkansas, a young Stricklen was watching. Lady Vols star Chamique Holdsclaw was her favorite player, and Stricklen aspired to follow her to Knoxville. That made it a thrill when Summitt first came to scout the state final her junior year.
"Everyone went crazy," Stricklen recalled. "It was crowded. People were like, 'Wow, she's here to see Stricklen.' It was great. Getting to know her personally was really great."
Stricklen was an easy sell for Summitt. And while her Tennessee career was filled with ups and downs and didn't result in the kind of team success she anticipated, Stricklen never regretted that decision at all.
"I learned so much from it," she said. "I learned a lot from Coach Summitt. Not just things on the court. The main thing I learned is don't take anything for granted. Go hard every possession, every practice. Same thing, she told us, in life."
As part of Summitt's final graduating class - an appropriate term, since every Lady Vol who has finished her eligibility has completed their degree - Stricklen was one of the leaders of the team that dealt with last summer's stunning news that Summit was battling early onset dementia. Learning of the diagnosis brought players and coaches together. Over the last year, Stricklen and her teammates got an idea of the regard in which Summitt is held by the women's basketball community. On the road, Summitt would receive standing ovations while fans sported "We Back Pat" T-shirts.
To Darsch, that's a testament to the work Summitt did to create support for women's basketball.
"She did a tremendous amount of work to build that," Darsch recalled. "She'd always tell the players, 'We've got to grow the game.' I think she really pushed the door open - kicked it open - for a lot of people. Title IX certainly was timely, but people like her who worked as hard as any man or any other coach did - harder in some respects - carried the torch for all of women's sports. Just walking through any door that she could and shaking a hand and being genuine, hardly turning anything down."
Summitt continues to receive accolades for her outstanding career. On Tuesday, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama at the White House. In her new role, Summitt plans to remain heavily involved with the program as Holly Warlick, part of her staff for the last 27 seasons, takes the helm. However, when the Lady Vols take the court next fall, they will do so without Summitt on the sidelines for the first time since 1974.
"You knew it would happen sometime, but not under these circumstances, which makes it more difficult to believe," said Darsch. "She is the Tennessee Lady Vols. They've had good track programs, they've had good softball programs, they've had good volleyball programs, but when you heard Tennessee Lady Vols, you thought basketball and Pat Summitt. That's the identity. That's the brand, as they like to say."Comments blog comments powered by Disqus