The winningest coach in Division 1 basketball history has died. Pat Summitt, who won eight NCAA titles with the Tennessee Lady Vols in a career spanning nearly four decades, passed away at the age of 64. Summitt’s death, of course, has direct correlation to South Carolina women’s basketball and Dawn Staley; not only did the two face each other on the hardwood several times throughout their career, but Staley was actually recruited by Summitt when the former was in high school.
"I don't think she even smiled," Staley recalled. "Her glare during the recruiting process and it was somewhat intimidating."
But Summitt also had a sales pitch that was unrivaled.
"Showing me her Final Four rings and telling me that you will go to a Final Four. Every coach can't go into a living room and say you will be a participant in the Final Four," Staley said.
Staley, as we know, ultimately picked Virginia. In the 1991 title game, Summitt’s Lady Vols defeated Staley’s Cavaliers by a score of 70-67, Tennessee’s third national championship. As Staley would later move from a successful WNBA career to an even more successful college coaching career, beginning at Temple and eventually bringing her to Columbia, she counted Summitt as one of her main influences.
"I know the game...Or I see the game through different eyes than Pat Summitt and Geno and all those other coaches. I've played it at the highest level. What I see is not what the normal person sees. Probably the most difficult part is being able to speak their vernacular so they can really understand what we see."
In Summitt’s last days, as she suffered from complications related to early onset dementia, Staley joined a chorus of individuals tweeting their thoughts and prayers and encouraging others to pray for the legendary coach. The condition, which was first diagnosed in August 2011, eventually led her to resign her role as Lady Vols head coach and pass the baton to assistant Holly Warlick. Summitt remained in an honorary role as head coach emeritus.
The sporting world has lost a true icon. Summitt’s fingerprints on the game of not just women’s college basketball - but college basketball at large - will be felt for years to come.
A sad day in my life and the entire WBB community-Pat Summit thank you for sharing your passion and love for the game with all of us.— dawnstaley (@dawnstaley) June 28, 2016