published Friday, February 6th, 2009

Epps: Summitt’s victory total is only part of a grand legacy


by Darren Epps
Audio clip

Pat Summitt

KNOXVILLE — They’re grand, these 1,000 wins, but to limit the scope of Pat Head Summitt to one extraordinary number would too easily conceal her other 1,000 or so contributions to basketball.

Watching this woman, studying this woman, can motivate and inspire. She can be so kind yet so demanding. It’s the way she turns every encounter into simply two people chatting, unaware of reputation or status. Ego? She let her own players make the scouting report for Thursday’s historic 73-43 rout of Georgia.

It’s the way she wouldn’t allow her son, Tyler, to attend her 1,000th victory because he had a high school basketball game. You don’t miss practices or games in that family.

It’s the way she’s done more for women than almost anyone else in this era, yet you’ve never seen her at a protest. She’s too busy working. She makes you want to become a better person.

And that’s just observing her from a distance. Imagine being part of these 1,000 wins. We can see some of the results, like how 111 players spent all four years in the program and 111 graduated.

Or, my favorite: 70, the number of Summitt’s players who pursued coaching, 45 currently. Start adding up those wins, those lessons, those players influenced, transitively, by Summitt. That coaching tree has more branches than a bank. The number of women impacted by Summitt far exceeds 1,000.

“Wow,” Summitt said after the buzzer sounded, speaking for all of us and then pausing to collect her emotions. Orange and white confetti fell from the top of Thompson-Boling Arena onto a floor called “The Summitt.” She spoke to 16,058 people, 16,005 more than attended victory No. 1. Another number indicating Summitt’s influence on women’s basketball.

She still had glitter in her hair thanks to a concoction made by Alicia Manning — would you dump water or Gatorade on Pat Summitt? — but the shimmer could not deter the crowd from focusing on every word she said. She just has that commanding presence.

And she appreciated this moment, she said, because Tennessee fans got to witness No. 1,000 in person. She was certainly a lot more excited about No. 1,000 than No. 100 against North Carolina State, and she recalled a moment with associate athletic director Debby Jennings.

“I remember Debby was so excited at N.C. State,” Summitt said. “I was like, ‘What’s the big deal? We’ve got to win a lot more games.’”

Summitt never thought about 1,000 wins, but who did before she asserted herself as a legend at Tennessee? It’s funny how much doesn’t change. She stressed defense and rebounding before win No. 1. More than 34 years later, Tennessee held the Lady Bulldogs to 35.4 percent shooting and outrebounded them 45-27.

“That’s been her staple,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said, “defense and rebounding.”

I found one fault with Summitt on this night: her assertion that someone would break her record. There’s no way. A coach could win 30 games a year for 30 years and still fall 100 short of her current mark. She’s only 56 years old. We’ll certainly be celebrating No. 1,100 and probably No. 1,200.

“I never did think I would coach this long,” Summitt said, “nor did I envision this program winning 1,000 games. It’s certainly a time to reflect and think about all the players who scored all those points. And the administration and their commitment to women’s basketball. People are saying it’s a record that will never be broken. I don’t know if I believe that. Records are made to be broken.”

Well, probably not. But even if a coach stays on the sideline for decades and eventually breaks the record, it changes absolutely nothing about Summitt, her impact and her character. Her 1,000th win just gives us another reason to reflect on her life.

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