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When called on to take a full accounting of Pat Summitt's career and reputation, it's hard to avoid citing the mythic. The Tennessee native, Hall of Famer, Olympic medalist, and head coach of UT's Lady Vols has become, over the course of her career, the most significant coach in women's basketball, leading her players to seven national championships and surpassing even the legendary Dean Smith to become the winningest coach in the history of the college game.
Her peerless track record on court earned her universal praise from the sporting community, and her professionalism, enthusiasm, diplomacy, and grace have helped her become one of the most respected women in America.
This would be an impressive enough achievement for almost any resident of the sporting pantheon, but the true measure of Coach Summitt's life and times lies outside the spotlight, off the magazine covers, and away from the deafening applause of Lady Vols fans. It is instead the way she exemplifies a coaching style that equally stresses the importance of teamwork and of individual greatness, of maintaining a balance between life on and off he court. It is, in other words, the way Coach Summitt has helped her players become true scholar-athletes.
For the women she leads, this is not just talk; this is expectation. Their success, both as championship athletes and as university students, is predicated on their own hard work and determination, and their coach's belief in their achievement. What it takes to make the grade academically and what it takes to make a game-winning jump shot are the same thing. Dedication. Skill. Ingenuity. Confidence.
There is, after all, life after the game. A life rich in adventure, possibility, and success beyond one's largest dreams. The sort of life experienced by a young athlete at UT Martin who became an Olympian, a coach, a philanthropist, a speaker, a mother, and a basketball legend. The sort of life Pat Summitt inspires her players to realize they can have too.