The immeasurable tragedy is that one day Pat Summitt will not remember all she has done.

The memory fades in fits and starts, “And doggone, who was our starting point guard on the 1991 national champions?” The memory can be a fickle companion, escaping and returning at any given moment, “And, doggone, who did we beat to win the ’96 title?”

The immeasurable tragedy is there will be a day when the greatest women’s basketball coach in history will not remember her eight national championships, her 1,098 victories and her 16 SEC regular season and tournament titles. Pat Summitt never missed an NCAA Tournament, but there will be a day when she’ll miss the fact that every Lady Vol who completed her eligibility graduated. There’ll be a day when she’ll forget that the seeds of her coaching tree have spread so far and so wide that even someone standing on Rocky Top could never begin to see exactly how far and how wide.

Yet to settle for calling Summitt the greatest women’s basketball coach is to settle for calling her something less than she is. Pat Summitt, who is stepping down as Tennessee’s head coach less than a year after a diagnosis of early onset dementia-Alzheimer’s type, did more than win more games and more women’s championships than anybody else. Summitt has empowered others to win more games and more championships than she did. That will stand as her mightiest and most enduring legacy.

There had been many decades of great female athletes before anybody ever heard of Pat Head out of Henrietta, Tenn. Great sprinters, figure skaters, golfers, tennis players and all of them seemed to compete in individual sports. As a leader, as an inspiration, as someone who could change the course of events with a steely stare, Summitt revolutionized women’s athletics. No one did more for women’s team sports and few have done more for women. No one did more to make sure Title IX wasn’t just law, but a living, breathing part of American life.

While returning from a trip to recruit Michelle Marciniak in Pennsylvania, Pat Summitt refused to give birth until the plane landed in her native Tennessee. That Mile High story would give birth to the legend of Summitt’s indomitable will and strength.

Yet in truth, Pat Summitt would be willful enough, strong enough to allow an entire generation to stand on her shoulders.

Yet it didn’t even stop there. Basketball without an audience is called aerobics. As Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski so aptly put it Wednesday, Summitt, over her 38 years as coach, raised the commitment, the pride and notoriety of her sport. She got us to care, especially in Connecticut. We cheered her passion. We jeered her orange outfits. We learned the lyrics to Rocky Top because of her.

In celebrating its 50th anniversary, Sports Illustrated went through the arduous process of naming the best athletes from each state. The magazine also held a poll to name the Enemy of the State. Forty-nine states picked a male enemy. Connecticut picked Pat Summitt. Is there anything better than equal-opportunity sporting animus?

And that was before Summitt ended the series with UConn in 2007, wrongly ending the best team rivalry in women’s sports.

“This is a woman whose impact in her game will never be equaled,” Connecticut Sun and former Tennessee guard Kara Lawson told ESPN Wednesday.

“Pat’s vision for the game of women’s basketball and her relentless drive pushed the game to a new level and made it possible for the rest of us to accomplish what we did,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said in a statement. “In her new role, I’m sure she will continue to make significant impacts on the University of Tennessee and on the game of women’s basketball as a whole.”

Summitt will continue as head coach emeritus. Holly Warlick, who carried much of the coaching burden last season and has been Summitt’s assistant for 27 years, becomes the head coach. Summitt said she fully intends to mentor and teach life skills to the Lady Vols and will continue as a spokeswoman in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Yes, Summitt will continue to have an active and significant impact.

Yet Summitt knows, we all know, the cruel and insidious nature of her disease. It would be denying the truth to say her famous glare hasn’t lost some of its laser-like precision. At times, it has looked a little empty.

Summitt has been called the female John Wooden and she has earned every letter of that honor. Before his death, Wooden sometimes would marvel at the purity of the women’s game. Yet as the years drag on, there stands to be one difference between the two. And it is a merciless one.

Wooden’s mind remained sharp until his death at age 99 in 2010. His former players would visit him regularly in his Southern California condo for decades after they played. It was a source of considerable joy for Wooden. Although he lost his beloved Nellie in 1985, he continued to write love letters to his wife every month. Wooden lived a full and principled life and was blessed to enjoy the fruits of his work for nearly a century.

Summitt is only 59. Alzheimer’s, dementia, they eventually deny not only the future, but erase the past. There are few people on earth who more richly deserve to savor their life’s work than Summitt. She deserves to live until 99. She deserves to have her former players visit her for the next 40 years. She deserves to savor every one of those eight national titles and every one of those 22 games against her greatest rival.

I called Summitt a coward in 2007 when she canceled the UConn-Tennessee rivalry and wouldn’t say why or even admit that she was the one behind it. A year later, 11 accusations surfaced against UConn and 10 were rejected by the NCAA. The one that stuck was a secondary violation. UConn made reservations for Maya Moore to take a public tour of ESPN. Summitt came off as petty. And in 2010 when she said she should be fired if she ever compromised on recruiting and later explained she wasn’t talking about imperiled Tennessee men’s coach Bruce Pearl but “probably” about UConn, well, she came off worse than petty. She was taking direct aim at Auriemma’s career.

Those wounds cut deep, yet time and fate help heal those wounds. And there Auriemma and Summitt were a few weeks ago at the Final Four in Denver. This would be another Mile High Story and this one would end in a big, warm embrace.

“She told me she was doing great, that she is getting the best care possible,” Auriemma said on that Colorado afternoon. “I told her that I was certain that after the NCAA Tournament was over that we’d have a chance to sit and talk.”

Let’s hope the two Hall of Famers sit and talk and remember all the good times. Let’s hope they sit and talk and patch up the bad ones. For Pat Summitt, who is nobody’s coward, has so much good to remember. And those touched by her life, well, they will never forget how much good she has done.

Source : Pat Summitt: Cherish The Memories – Hartford Courant

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