By MARTIN FENNELLY The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA, Fla. - Everybody recognized her as she hit the Forum early Tuesday evening. She thanked locals for coming.
“Hope to see y’all two more times,” said Pat Head Summitt.
When you’re the winningest coach in college basketball history, with Bob Knight and Dean Smith down below you on Rocky Top, you get there by thinking ahead, way ahead.
Two more times?
The first time is a lock, Nov. 15, when Tennessee, Pat Head Summitt’s seventh defending national champion, joins Oklahoma, Duke and South Florida in a Forum doubleheader to preview what’s coming in April: The NCAA Women’s Final Four, right here in Tampa.
That’s the second time.
That’s Pat Head Summitt time.
What’s In A Name?
We’d like to clear up the confusion. Summitt is putting her maiden name, Head, back into the starting lineup because she’s going through a divorce.
But when you win 947 games, you can call yourself Flopsy and people salute. There has never been anyone like Summitt in the women’s game or maybe any other game.
She was at the Forum to promote the Final Four and speak with NCAA corporate sponsors. She stopped by early to make sure the microphone, one that would let her walk and work the room, was working right. It’s in the details, people.
The room hung on her words. Summitt was her usual motivational dynamo lined with Southern twang. She wants them to love what they do as much as she loves what she does. And that’s love.
She is a legend, a Hall of Famer, Olympian. She is mother, taskmaster, competitor, teacher. She is a best-selling author and a cheerleader. And we mean cheerleader. OK, here’s one thing she can’t do.
“I can’t sing,” Summitt said.
We’ll get to that.
First, the Final Four.
“Tampa’s going to do a great job,” Summitt said.
She is amazed at how the event has grown. She has helped with much of the growing. She was asked about the media contingent for her first Final Four.
“Well, each school had one, so that’s four, so that was pretty big.”
She won her first game 32 years ago. There were 53 spectators. She won her 900th game before 13,127 fans.
Along with those seven NCAA titles go dozens of SEC titles, Sweet 16s and All-Americans – and a 100 percent graduation rate for players who’ve completed their eligibility. Summitt should reach 1,000 victories in 2009.
“Numbers aren’t that significant to me now,” she said. “The number 7 was significant, because it was the first [national title] for this group.”
The coach gave into another number, 880, the victory that moved her past North Carolina’s men’s coach Dean Smith into first place for wins.
“Because that was the night the University of Tennessee named the court ‘The Summitt.’ Never did I think at that university or any major university that that would happen, that a woman would have her name placed on the court. That’s probably the thing that touched my heart more than anything.”
Divorce or no, the name Summitt will remain on the court. Pat and her 16-year-old son, Tyler, laughed about the alternative:
Mom smiled again Tuesday.
“It’ll always be The Summitt.”
Doing Whatever It Takes
She still brings all her game to the job. After all these wins, she’s still in university cafeterias, “standing on tables screaming, so I can invite everybody personally to our games.” And just imagine Dean Smith or John Wooden leading cheers at a women’s game.
But that’s what Summitt did during last season’s Florida-Tennessee men’s game in Knoxville, returning the favor to Nutty Vols men’s coach Bruce Pearl, who had shown up at one of her games painted orange.
So there she was, in full cheerleading outfit, standing atop a human pyramid and singing “Rocky Top” to 20,000 Vols.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life, no championship game, no nothing,” Summitt said.
Remember her well.
We might not see another one like her.
We’ll see her in Tampa, though.
Twice, if she has her way.