Sports

Jeff Mittie: Pat Summitt was a rock star in her game

Forget for a moment that what Pat Summitt accomplished in her career may not be apples to apples to the men's game. What this woman has achieved and meant to her profession may be greater than any one coach in men's college basketball.

It is with great sadness to learn that the legendary women's basketball coach at Tennessee is stepping down from her post after 38 years.

"My reaction was sad. It was cut too short," TCU women's basketball coach Jeff Mittie said. "When the announcement came, I was shocked. I didn't know until you called me. We all knew that it was coming at some point, but my reaction was that this is sad. This is somebody that our game needs."

Summitt, 59, will become a coach emeritus for the Lady Vols as longtime assistant Holly Warlick takes over as coach. This had been coming since Summitt announced last fall that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Summitt's last game was a 77-58 loss in the NCAA Tournament regional finals against Baylor.

It had been said of Summitt that she could have been one of the very few women to make the transition to coaching the men's game. I'm not sure I buy that, but there are very few who were as driven to continue to achieve long after she already had accomplished everything.

She also was very aware of her responsibility to grow the sport. Whereas so many in college coaching balk at going on the road to play, Summitt would take her team away from Knoxville because she realized it could help women's basketball.

"When we talked to Tennessee, she felt like it was her responsibility to grow the game. If you look back at their schedule, they played that game coming back from Hawaii. That's as hard as any game you can play," Mittie said.

On Nov. 27, 2000, she brought the Lady Vols to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum to play TCU. Normally a program of that stature would have no business going on the road to play a mid-major team. No doubt there was a recruiting angle, and this was a way for then-Lady Vols stars Tamika Catchings (Duncanville) and Ashley Robinson (South Grand Prairie) to play close to home. The place was packed, and for the brief time TCU led the No. 2-ranked Lady Vols, the building was loud. TCU lost 83-61.

"What I remember about that game was, when she came out, it was a rock star coming out on the floor with everyone taking pictures," Mittie said. "There are only a few people in this game that you can say their name and everyone knows it. Pat was one of them. She understood that was her responsibility, and she did it for a lot of people."

The game drew 7,262, which set a record for a basketball game at the venue. The record was broken when the men played Kansas on Dec. 1, 2003 -- 7,267.

The sport still has a ways to go to arrive to the point where Summitt wants it to be, but it's closer because of her.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @MacEngelProf

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