KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Pat Summit is the greatest coach in women’s college basketball history. Period.
She is the one who introduced many people to the sport, including this writer, who witnessed the first female NCAA Division I dynasty, punctuated by the “Three Meeks” — Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall Raymond winning three titles in four years.
The legendary college basketball pioneer passed away early this morning at the age of 64 from complications associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and the news immediately sent shock waves that reverberated throughout college basketball and across the entire pro and collegiate sports worlds.
Summitt is the winningest coach in the history of college basketball, as she amassed 1,098 wins in her career, more than any coach of men’s or women’s basketball ever. She coached women’s basketball at the University of Tennessee for 38 years, winning 16 SEC Championships, and eight national titles, including a 3-peat from 1996 to 1998.
Geno Auriemma, the coach of college basketball’s second dynasty, may eventually obliterate every record that Summitt possessed, but he will never hold the cultural influence that Summit possesses because she was the pioneer who started from nothing and built a national powerhouse that changed the way the country viewed the sport forever.
Summitt was more than just a coach, however, she was a model of excellence, perseverance and discipline in the sports community and American society. She began coaching the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers when she was 22 years old in 1974, earning $250 a week and driving the team van, washing their uniforms, as women’s basketball was not yet an NCAA-sanctioned sport. In 2000, she was awarded the Naismith Coach of the Century Award.
President Barack Obama would award her the coveted Medal of Freedom in 2012, adding to her legend as one of the most important sports voices in U.S. history.
Tyler Summitt, Pat’s 25-year-old son and a college basketball coach himself, revealed in a statement that his mother’s declining health (she stepped down from the Tennessee head coaching position in 2012 while she battled ‘Alzheimer’s Type’ dementia) is what ultimately led to her passing.
She died peacefully this morning at Sherrill Hill Senior Living in Knoxville surrounded by those who loved her most. Since 2011, my mother had battled her toughest opponent, early onset dementia, ‘Alzheimer’s Type,’ and she did so with bravely fierce determination just as she did with every opponent she ever faced. Even though it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms that she is no longer with us, we can all find peace in knowing she no longer carries the heavy burden of this disease.