Colleges

Local coaches recall Pat Summitt as role model and leader

Intensity on the sidelines was a trademark of late Tennessee icon Pat Summitt.

mark humphrey/Associated Press/File 2007

Intensity on the sidelines was a trademark of late Tennessee icon Pat Summitt.

Pat Summitt, the late, legendary Tennessee coach with more wins than anyone else in college basketball history, touched every corner of the basketball world, then pushed beyond it.

Her reach extended to many in the Boston area, including coaches who shared memories of her after her death early Tuesday morning.

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One of them was Bentley women’s basketball coach Barbara Stevens, who is linked in the record books with Summitt as two of only six NCAA women’s coaches to pass the 900-win threshold.

Stevens called Summitt a “tremendous role model, a strong female in a profession that is typically male-dominated.

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“I think she’s earned her place among the greats, not just sports but in any profession. She was a tremendous leader of young people.”

The two crossed paths for the first time at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony for the Class of 1985, the first to include women. They attended the ceremony in Springfield, where Summitt served as a sponsor to inductee Margaret Wade, the great Delta State coach.

Summitt and Stevens met again in the early 1990s, Stevens said, when Summitt came to Boston with Sonja Hogg, who coached at Louisiana Tech and at Baylor. The two were on a mission to get women’s basketball a Hall of Fame of its own and had a meeting with officials from Converse, which they were hoping to get as a sponsor.

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Stevens was at the meeting representing the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. She couldn’t remember the outcome with Converse — the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame would open on Summitt’s turf in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1999 — but recalled clearly the detailed plans and devotion with which Summitt and Hogg made their case.

“I remember their passion about it, both of them,” said Stevens. “This was extremely personal to them that this Hall of Fame should be built. Heck, if they were selling an island out in the Pacific, I think I would have bought it.”

Summitt had to go to the airport right after the meeting. Stevens was in the car with her, and on the way, they drove past the James Hook lobster company in Boston. Summitt asked to stop, ran into the seafood market, and came back with a live lobster all wrapped up for her then-husband, R.B. Summitt.

“She said she was going to have R.B. cook that up for dinner tonight,” Stevens said.

Summitt remained approachable even as her star status began to separate her from her peers.

Harvard women’s coach Kathy Delaney-Smith recalled sitting in a room with Summitt and several other coaches on a recruiting trip at “a very crowded hot college that we were all dragging chairs around and all trying to squeeze ourselves into small spaces.

“Pat comes in with her crisp orange shirt on, looking fresh as ever, and she placed her chair down and no one . . . she seemed to have her incredible spot of real estate with a lot of room and I thought, ‘I can go sit beside her,’ so I did.”

Summitt’s young son Tyler was with her. Delaney-Smith asked Tyler his name, and when he responded, “Tyler from Tennessee,” in a thick Southern drawl, Delaney-Smith jokingly responded, “Tennessee? I’ve never heard of that.”

Tyler, upset, informed Delaney-Smith that Tennessee was the home of the Lady Vols.

“Lady Vols? I’ve never heard of that,” Delaney-Smith continued to tease.

Summitt, however, got the last word.

“Pat leaned over and said, ‘Tyler, ask her if she wants to bring her Lady Crimson down to play our Lady Vols.’ ”

Summitt’s humor and openness remained intact despite criticism early in her career when her track record was not established and she was deemed by some too intense for a women’s coach.

Delaney-Smith said Summitt’s zeal on the sidelines was seen as a negative, and media outlets seemed to choose photographs of Summitt that were unflattering by design.

With everything Summitt accomplished, said Delaney-Smith, it’s easy to forget how little fame and goodwill she started out with.

“I do think people forget that the world was not ready or totally accepting to her approach or, for lack of a better word, intensity,” said Delaney-Smith.

“She held the bar high, she pushed women more and further than people thought they could be pushed, and now that’s the way our culture is.”

Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @NoraPrinciotti.
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