Pat Summitt celebrated her seventh National Title at Tennessee, but at times it was unthinkable that it would take the Tennessee Lady Volunteers nine years to win another national title. Over the last week, the comments of radio host Don Imus has taken some attention away from the game and the Rutgers team who were defeated by Coach Summitt’s Lady Vols. Summitt gives her thoughts on Don Imus’s comments, looking back at winning the National Title, and all the talk around Candace Parker going to the pros.
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Chris Yandek: Has it all set in yet?
Pat Summitt: “I don’t know. There’s mornings I wake up and I go, ‘Did we really win the National Championship?’ You know, it’s a great feeling, don’t get me wrong, but I think the tournament it seems so much to us just like another tournament, which I think helped our players in terms of being able to fight through some adversity along the way.”
CY: You didn’t win a national title for nine years. Now being the coach of this 2007 National Champion team, does it feel any different since it took a little longer to get this one?
PS: “Well, I think that it was a great feeling and probably a little bit more special because of the length of time that had passed before we won, but I think more importantly, it was just a great feeling because this team had such strong leadership and they had great chemistry. I just think they were just a team that really enjoyed the process and allowed our coaching staff to enjoy the process.”
CY: Was there ever a moment through those nine years where you thought, maybe I need to make some adjustments or change your style in any way as a coach?
PS: “No. I think the only thing that I really thought about, I am always every year thinking about how I can get better, how my stuff can get better, how our team can improve. I mean, we’re always trying to evaluate and tweak things and get better. But I think the most important thing I thought is, I thought about recruiting and what we need in recruiting. I really felt like we had to have a go to player. We had Chamique Holdsclaw, and Chamique was just definitely instrumental in helping us win three National Championships along with Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall being a part of a couple of those. I did not think we had the dominant player. There is not that many players that really can take over games, signed Candace Parker, I really felt like at that time that a National Championship was certainly in reach.”
CY: How much did it mean to get all those players, especially the seniors a ring since a few groups over the years haven’t had a chance to experience this?
PS: “It was great. It was awesome. They openly talked about the fact they didn’t have a banner hanging in there in Thompson Bowling Arena and they wanted a ring and they came here to win a ring. If you look at the rich tradition of our program and the six National Championships, so many of the student athletes that choose to come to Tennessee I really believe come here because they feel like that they will have a legitimate shot at winning and I also think they loved the fan support and the atmosphere which our team has in all of our home games and pretty much all our away games.”
CY: There has been a lot of attention around Candace Parker going professional, obviously, and it looks like she’s gonna stay for her last year. Did you have any conversation any time recently with her about her going professional?
PS: “No. I did not. I never ask her if she was thinking about leaving because I never had any reason to believe she would. I just kept the focus on the team and on Candace and the role she played for us. Actually, when I saw it in USA Today, I just, she was, we were warming up in practice and she was underneath the basket shooting and I just said, ‘Hey Candace! I enjoyed what I read in the paper today about your decision.’ She just started laughing and I did too. So I haven’t discussed it with her.”
CY: What would it feel like to catch John Wooden now, only four national titles away, from his magical 11?
PS: “You know, I haven’t ever really had a goal to break that record or catch John Wooden. I didn’t even know if it would be realistic. I think sometimes for me that sounds like almost being selfish. I am not about personal records. I am about helping each and every student athlete that selects to wear the orange, you know, be successful at Tennessee individually and as a team. That type of record is certainly not anything that I have aspirations to reach. I want to keep coaching as long as I can. I love teaching and working with student athletes and I love being at the University of Tennessee.”
CY: You’re one of the faces of women’s college basketball and helped get it to where it is. How disappointed were you at the disgraceful comments that radio show host Don Imus made about the Rutgers women’s team last week?
PS: “Well, I just couldn’t believe it. It was very unfortunate and obviously we were part of that game. I know Vivian very well. I know her student athletes. You’re talking about young women that to me represent Rutgers University with a lot of class and obviously, you know, great competitive spirit. There’s just no place for that comment. I’m glad that at least at the present time that we got the exposure and Imus has obviously apologized a number of times, but that really is very difficult to erase what’s been said and the hurt that those kids have felt.”
CY: Have you ever had to deal with anything like this as a coach?
PS: “Absolutely not. I don’t think this has ever happened in our game. That’s misfortunate because the players from Rutgers and Tennessee, we were on the biggest stage of women’s basketball and then for comments like that to be made, it’s just unfair. And certainly I know there’s a lot people not just in women’s basketball very upset and rightfully so.”
CY: Finally, enjoy your time off obviously now and you can enjoy and have more time to think about this seventh national title, but I have to ask, is there anything better off the court than having your own State Farm Commercial?
PS: “(Laughs) You know, I was a little concerned about it when State Farm approached me because, you know, I’ve never done a commercial by any means, but I tried to look at it as something that would be good for our game. We’ve never had a women’s basketball coach represented in that fashion and I love State Farm for the fact they really support the women’s game.”
Originally conducted on February 14, 2007
Listen to the First CYInterview with Pat Summitt:
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Pat Summitt is more than a coach and she is the best at what she does at the college level. The University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach continues to take teams to the NCAA Final Four and as well winning National Championships. There is nobody that has more wins than her in either gender, but through our interview I realized how much more there is to her than just winning a game on the court.
Chris Yandek: How are you and what are you thoughts on this year’s teams overall performance so far?
PS: “Well, Chris, everything’s starting to come together a little bit for us. I think overall, the schedule that we played has allowed us to really learn and to grow as a team. I do think we’re getting better. We still have room for improvement and I’m pleased. We got four games left in the regular SEC season and hopefully by the time we finish that and the SEC Tournament we’ll be ready for the big one.”
CY: What does this group of Lady Volunteers, as you say improve, really have to improve on to get back to the Final 4?
PS: “I think first of all we have to be a better rebounding team. If you just look statistically, this is not what I would consider a strong rebounding team. I think we stand around and watch a couple people do the work. We have to be more committed and collectively come together and make rebounding a priority as a team. Secondly, I just think consistency or efficiency on offense has been good at times and bad at times. I think as a basketball team, we have to be mindful of having a little better balance on the offensive end. Candace Parker’s just had a terrific overall year just getting better and better, but I think we have to have more balance. Alexis Hornbuckle is probably the most improved player on our basketball team, but we need the support from everyone that gets on the court.”
CY: It’s obvious that you and Bobby Knight both love what you do being the winningest coaches of your respected genders. What is it about working with college female athletes that keeps you coming back every season?
PS: “Well, I love teaching I think more than anything. It’s the opportunity to just teach young people and teach the game. You teach more than basketball. You teach life skills. The teaching part of it is something that I am passionate about. I look forward to every practice. A lot of people say well, I enjoy coaching, but I see myself as more as a teacher.”
CY: Candace Parker, who I spoke to a few weeks ago, has definitely brought new things to the game of women’s college basketball. What do you think about her as far as planning to finish her degree, she could obviously go to the professional level, you seem to always graduate all your players no matter how good they are?
PS: “Well, you’re speaking about Candace and the possibilities, there’s always a possibility Chris someone could choose to leave early. Candace being the most likely candidate as far as any player that I’ve coached here at Tennessee because academically with the redshirt year she had, she’s way ahead and can graduate early. But we, I see the college game right now as, college is probably four of the best years of your life, four or five, whatever you make of it. I think Candace will just have to decide is she anxious to get to the pros to play with the pro players or does she still enjoy the college game. I have not asked her that question. I hadn’t. I want her to enjoy each and every day. She’s a very smart individual and when the time comes I am sure she will make a very intelligent and well informed decision.”
CY: What life experiences do you share with these women about why it’s so important to though finish a college education since you seem to really, again, have a high graduate rate?
PS: “Well, I’ve always put great emphasis on the academics and getting your degree. It’s important because basketball is short term. The long term is what are you gonna do after college and after you no longer can bounce the ball. I think these young women understand that there’s more opportunities in the corporate world depending on their chosen or desired professional opportunities or ambitions that they understand that they have to have that diploma if they really want to be in the competitive world that we’re in to get the job that they want. We have a 100 percent graduation rate of every player that’s finished their career here and we’re very proud of that. But that’s what we do, basketball is just a small part of it, but preparing them for life is even more important.”
CY: Do you remember the first practice you ever held with your first group of Lady Vols back in 1974 and what you told them, showed them, and what you thought they could become?
PS: “You know Chris, I do remember my first practice because I was overwhelmed. I mean, I never, you gotta understand, when I got hired I’d never coached a day in my life. I had been a player, but my practice preparation had a lot to do with the coaching that I received from Billie Moore who was our Olympic coach in ’76. I had played on a couple of teams that Billie was a coach on the World University Team in 1973. I learned from Billie Moore and Jill Upton and also Coach Sue Gunter. So I’d been around the game a lot, but I really had to go back to when I was a player and what people taught me and that’s really how I started to develop my own philosophy and how I wanted to conduct practice and the drills I would do and the method of teaching that I would implement.”
CY: What advice would you give to any girl playing basketball in high school and would like to play at the college level as far as how to make that happen and what she should do overall?
PS: “I would recommend that these kids understand that they need to really work on their skill development at a very young age, start early and just really work on their ball handling skills, their passing skills, their shooting skills. Just refine their skills as much as they can and devote the time to it. A lot of kids just want to go play, but they don’t know to play and they don’t have the skills to play. I think just the skill development right off and then play all you can, but don’t sacrifice your skill development by just playing and not working on the specifics of the game.”
CY: You have won six national titles with Tennessee and accomplished more as a coach than most can ever dream of. Does it ever cross your mind that maybe I should do something else sooner than later or do you think this is what you will do the rest of your life as long as the success and motivation is still there with you and the ladies that you coach?
PS: “Well, I think you are right on. As long as I enjoy this and have that passion and have an opportunity to work with these young women, coaching is what I know and what I love and as I’ve said, it’s more than coaching, it’s teaching. It’s having a chance to develop those relationships and impact these young women and help them set their goals and reach their goals. And to me, I don’t think I can do anything and have more fun or be more challenged.”
CY: What was it about that  team that went 39-0 that made them so unstoppable and do you use them as an example to motivate your current teams that they can always do more to improve their game?
PS: “I think what was so really unique and special about that team, they had talent, they were very skilled, they’re very athletic, but they were very committed to playing together as a team. And to me, a lot of teams have talent, but do they have the chemistry and the togetherness and the passion for each other and that team had it. I mean, they just really had it. With our team now, I talk about that team some, I really try and keep the emphasis and the focus on now and the team and the individuals and what they have to do. I think a reference of saying the 1998 team was a great team because they didn’t care who got the recognition and they were just willing to play hard and play together and they played at an incredible pace both offensively and defensively.”
CY: How much has the sport changed in three decades?
PS: “I think it’s changed tremendously and for the better. I think that obviously the game is better. I think the skill of the players are better, the strength, the overall athleticism, the teamwork involved. I think coaching is better. We have more exposure for our game than ever. You know, our sport has grown significantly in really the last five years. It’s pretty amazing. But parity is better, but we’re not where the men are when you talk about the number of teams that potentially could get to a Final Four and win a championship.”
CY: Finally, what does it feel like when someone says you’re the winningest coach of all time in college basketball and what will win number 1000 feel like for you or will you consider it a milestone?
PS: “You know, Chris, I didn’t go into this to break records or do anything exceptional. I just think when I think about the wins, I immediately think about how fortunate I’ve been to coach some of the best players in the history of the women’s game and it’s all about players. They, I haven’t scored a point. They’ve scored them all. I haven’t even gotten a rebound in 33 years. They do the work and yet I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to be at Tennessee where basketball was important and it was important to our administration to make a commitment. The fan support’s been second to no one in the game and I think there will come a day when I’ll reflect and probably go, it’s unbelievable what has happened and how fortunate I’ve been to be a part of it, but right now my eye’s on this team and on another championship.”