Summitt, Pat Head


Summitt, Pat Head
▪ 1999

      In 1998 American basketball coach Pat Summitt reached the apex of women's basketball after guiding the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers to an unprecedented third consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship, capping a perfect season (39-0). It was her sixth title and came just days after she received the Associated Press's Coach-of-the-Year award. Second only to John Wooden's 10 championships on the college hard court, Summitt had amassed an .823 winning average and made a record 15 trips to the Final Four. The athletes she coached have gone on to play in the Olympics and at the professional and international level. In more than 24 years as head coach at Tennessee, Summitt rejected numerous coaching offers from other schools in an effort to climb to new heights with the Lady Vols.

      Born on June 14, 1952, in Henrietta, Tenn., Patricia Head grew up on a dairy farm, where she developed the toughness that would become her trademark. She first played basketball in a hayloft, and her aggressive and instinctive play at the University of Tennessee at Martin (B.S., 1974), earned her spots on national teams. In 1975 she won gold at the Pan-American Games and the following year overcame a serious knee injury to cocaptain the U.S. Olympic team to a silver medal in Montreal. Soon afterward, she retired as a player to concentrate on coaching. Named head coach of the Lady Vols at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1975 while pursuing a master's degree in physical education (1975), she posted a 16-8 record in her inaugural season. In 1987, months after earning her 300th win, she guided the Lady Vols to their first NCAA championship. With Summitt at the helm, the university's team went on to claim five more titles (1989, 1991, 1996-98), and since 1986 won at least 20 games each season. In 1996 Summitt notched her 600th victory, becoming only the second woman to tally that many wins on the court. In addition to collegiate basketball, she also coached on the international level, leading the U.S. women's team to gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

      Driven and uncompromising, Summitt demanded the best from her players and, armed with the threat of strenuous practices and the legendary "look" that would send athletes for cover, she was rarely disappointed. The recipient of numerous coaching honours, including the Naismith award (1987, 1989, and 1994), Summitt was the first woman to receive (1990) the John Bunn trophy from the Basketball Hall of Fame. A master motivator, she released two self-help books, Reach for the Summit and Raise the Roof (each with Sally Jenkins), soon after the 1998 championship. The books covered a subject quite familiar to Summitt—achieving success.

AMY TIKKANEN

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Universalium. 2010.

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