Mercer women’s basketball head coach Susie Gardner said Pat Summitt was a country girl cast as the face of women’s basketball.
Gardner remembers attending a Summitt basketball camp years ago, specifically remembering Summitt coming over and touching her on the shoulder and using her as an example in one of the drills. Gardner said she couldn’t believe she was just touched by Summitt.
A lot of people were touched by Summitt, the legendary Tennessee head coach.
Summitt died at the age of 64 after a long bout with early onset Alzheimer’s. Summitt was a pioneer in changing the scope of women’s basketball and sports as a whole, finishing her career as the winningest basketball head coach in Division I history, men or women.
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“She did so much for our sport,” Gardner said.
As a teenager, Gardner said she remembered practicing in her backyard, dreaming of playing for “the great Pat Summitt.” While her goal of playing for the legendary coach didn’t happen, she did compete against Summitt’s teams while playing at Georgia. Prior to coming to Mercer, Gardner coached against Summitt while coaching at Austin Peay, Arkansas and Florida. Gardner said her favorite part of coaching against Summitt was getting to shake hands with her before and after the game.
“It was like, ‘Wow, I just got to coach against Coach Summitt,’ ” Gardner said.
Andy Landers, who coached Gardner at Georgia, remembers competing against Summitt. She started coaching right about the time Title IX was implemented. She was the face of Tennessee women’s basketball and was a model for the program’s success on the court and off the court.
“She did something with Tennessee that was special to Title IX that had not been done before,” Landers said. “There will not be another one like her.”
Coaching nearly 40 years, Summitt brought life to women’s college basketball, leading Tennessee to eight national championships and 1,098 wins, winning 84 percent of her games.
“Pat Summitt made women’s basketball significant in a way no one else could touch,” said MaChelle Joseph, Georgia Tech’s head coach. “She is a legend, a pioneer and the most competitive coach I ever faced. She lifted our sport to a place no one could of ever envisioned.”
The legacy she’ll leave will live long into the future of sports. According to Landers, that legacy is winning and doing it the right way.
“She’s an example of how things should and could be done,” he said.
Landers admired Summitt’s competitive spirit and relentless attitude.
“Pat Summitt transcended the game of women’s basketball,” Joseph said. “She made people take us seriously.”