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Pat will always be on the coaching summit

Editor’s note: The following was originally published on April 10, 2008 in the Daily Dispatch (Henderson, N.C.) after Pat Summitt won her eighth, and final, national championship.

After 38 years, Pat Summitt retired Thursday as Tennessee women's basketball coach with 1,098 wins and eight national championships. Summitt is dealing with early-onset dementia.

There’s a large mountain to climb in college basketball and after Tuesday night, the Summitt got higher.

Tennessee beat Stanford 64-48 in the women’s national title game to repeat as champions. Repeats have been a theme as of late with the Florida Gators pulling the double in ’06 and ’07 on the men’s side.

And people actually gave the Cardinal a chance, especially after seeing how Kansas just knocked off the two best teams in the country in Memphis and North Carolina to win the men’s title. And surely no one thought that Tennessee was 16 points better than Stanford?

But there was a difference in the paths that the Jayhawks and Lady Vols took to their respective shinning moments — something so silently profound that it will get disregarded even after you’ve finished reading this column.

Although Kansas beat a Hall of Fame coach in Roy Williams to win on its way to a championship, Tennessee had Pat Summitt — who is on a level so high that an oxygen tank is needed to breathe.

With the win Tuesday night, Summitt improved to 104-19 in NCAA tournament games. She won title No. 8, putting her behind only John Wooden who has 10.

Beginning in 1996, Summitt led the Lady Vols to three consecutive titles — including the ’96 team that went an NCAA record 39-0. Those teams were led by the first Candace Parker — Chamique Holdsclaw.  Holdsclaw was a four-time All American who holds the school record in points (3,025) and rebounds (1,295) for both men and women.

On January 14, 2003, Summitt became the first woman to reach 800 coaching wins.  Two years later, she became the winningest coach of all-time. After Tuesday night, Summitt had 983 wins — that’s more than Harry Statham of McKendree University (950), Bob Knight (902), Dean Smith (879) and Adolph Rupp (876).

Summitt’s name fits her as perfectly as the championship rings that stretches across both hands. There are no higher heights in the college basketball coaching profession than Pat Summitt has achieved and no one more under-appreciated.

But that tends to happen to women in a male-dominated vocation such as sports. People may say that Bill Russell was one of the most dominating players in college basketball but forget that Cheryl Miller was just as dominant while leading Southern California to a 112-20 record (awarded Naismith College Player of the Year three times, scored 3,018 career points which is fifth all-time in NCAA history and named NCAA tournament MVP in ’83 and ’84).

So don’t be ashamed when asked who are the greatest coaches in college basketball history and you say Wooden, Knight, Smith or Rupp. Can’t fault you for forgetting Pat — she’s only a woman right?

Stanford shouldn’t feel bad — they lost to a legend who happens to have her own Summitt.

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