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Dan Fleser | Knoxville News-Sentinel | June 28, 2016

Pat Summitt was just Pat to many

  Pat Summitt won eight titles in 1987,1989,1991,1996, 1997,1998, 2007 and 2008.

When Pat Summitt became coach of the Tennessee women's basketball team in 1974, she decided that the players should refer to her simply as Pat.

" I didn't want them to be intimidated," she said. "I just thought that was the way to go."

An interesting decision, considering Summitt's way wasn't paved by ease and comfort. She challenged her players, exhorted them and squeezed every bit of effort out of them and then some more. More than a few of them likely cursed her name along the way.

In the process, those players collaborated on 1,098 victories, measured in 36 consecutive seasons of 20 or more and 20 seasons of 30-plus victories.

Twenty-two of the seasons reached a Final Four (4 AIAW, 18 NCAA) and eight ended in celebration with a national championship starting in 1987 and stretching out over three decades to 2008.

Twenty-one Lady Vols earned All-America honors. Multiple selections brought the final total to 36.

They also had a hand in 32 SEC championships, split evenly between regular-season and tournament titles.

When Summitt announced April 18, 2012, that she was stepping down after 38 seasons to become a head coach emeritus, Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart said that he has surveyed Summitt's resume countless times and always come to the same conclusion.

"You think to yourself: somebody is making this up," he said.

It's all very real, a career that's best captured by a documentary. Many of Summitt's coaching colleagues have settled on a perfect title, referring to her as our John Wooden.

Another interesting choice, considering Summitt's way hasn't always followed the straight and narrow.

RELATED: Tennessee legend Pat Summitt dies at age 64

She danced on a table for players as a celebratory payoff for them winning the 1989 national championships.

She's dressed up over the years as everything from a pirate to a big-game hunter to a gas station attendant for Lady Vols media guide covers.

Her harried flight home from Pennsylvania in 1990 to give birth to her son, Tyler, is as much a part of Summitt's lore as all the victories.

This wing of the museum also features Summitt pulling on a gorilla suit to lighten the mood for star player Candace Parker's official recruiting visit in 2003. In 2007, Summitt dressed up like a cheerleader and sang Rocky Top to entertain a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd during a UT men's game against Florida. The following year, she used her forearm to knock a raccoon off the railing of her back deck to protect her yellow lab, Sally.

You might think somebody was making this up, too. Such moments could fill an entire episode of America's Funniest Home Videos.

These sort of occurrences don't bring to mind Wooden, the legendary men's basketball coach from UCLA. They speak of somebody less austere and more familiar.

Since Summitt announced in August 2011 that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, her players have been sorting through their thoughts and emotions about her. Former player Abby Conklin, who likely took Summitt's name in vain a time or two during her career, visited in January. She spoke of Summitt's influence as if she's still almost like a parental figure to Conklin.

Last week, former player Nicky Anosike tweeted about having the birds and bees talk with Summitt. Another former player, Shyra Ely, recalled how Summitt encouraged her to date a man who was shorter than her. Ely ended up marrying former UT men's guard Richard "Pee Wee" Gash.

These were the memories they chose to share in a social media forum very personal in nature and involving someone who many consider to be almost larger than life.

They know all about the legend of Pat Summitt. But they also know better. To them, she's simply Pat.


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