At the Summit

The woman who built a dynasty in Tennessee catches Dean Smith on the wins list
March 28, 2005

It's fitting that Pat Summitt tied Dean Smith's alltime record of 879 college basketball victories in Knoxville, a city she turned into the epicenter of women's college hoops, and at the NCAA tournament, an event she has dominated since its inception 24 years ago. It's even fitting that she beat Kellie Harper, a former player who (as Kellie Jolly) had a hand in wins 563 through 694, to do it. After top-seeded Tennessee stomped Harper's No. 16 Western Carolina team 94--43 on Sunday, Summitt's message was clear: You don't set records or win titles by going easy on your friends.

Summitt has never been one to go easy. When she was hired to coach Tennessee's women's team, in 1974, she was a 22-year-old graduate student training to play in the 1975 Pan Am Games and the 1976 Olympics. (Summitt was the second-leading rebounder on the '76 silver medal winners.) Her first Tennessee squad had no scholarships and few fans; they weren't even called the Lady Vols yet. In addition to teaching her players rebounding, blocking out and man-to-man defense, Summit drove the team van, washed uniforms and taped ankles.

The Lady Vols have come a long way since then; this year they averaged 13,468 fans at home. Women's basketball has also come a long way thanks in large part to Summitt, who set standards for coaches' salaries, facilities and marketing and recruiting budgets, not to mention competitive play. Though her team always has the nation's toughest schedule, she has put together 29 straight 20-win seasons, gone to 15 Final Fours and won six national titles. Tennessee's last championship may have been in 1998--the year Harper and Chamique Holdsclaw were juniors--but it has been in the final three times since.

If she doesn't retire in the next few years--at 52, Summitt says she still loves going to practice every day--her final wins total should leave Smith's far behind, a record perhaps for the ages. The women's game is now so competitive that few teams get through a season unscathed, and no major program would hire a 22-year-old. More important, there aren't many people with Summitt's skill and resolve. "Every day she is coaching to win a championship," says Kentucky coach Mickie DeMoss, a former Summitt assistant. "It's a way of life for her." --Kelli Anderson

COLOR PHOTOCHARLES SMALL/US PRESSWIRE (SUMMITT) DOUBLE DUTY Summitt played for the U.S. in 1975 and '76 while coaching. COLOR PHOTOJAMES DRAKE (SUMMITT PLAYING) DOUBLE DUTY Summitt played for the U.S. in 1975 and '76 while coaching.

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