Tonight could mark the ultimate accomplishment of any basketball coach in NCAA history.
Already in the record books as the all-time winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, Pat Summitt and her Lady Vols will take the stage tonight against No. 2 Oklahoma in search of Summit’s 1000th career win.
When Pat Summitt became women’s basketball coach at Tennessee in 1974, she was 22 years old. She had no clue that the recently passed Title IX legislation and her career would help revolutionize women’s sports. She launched her career when funding opportunities were just beginning to accelerate women’s athletics and she quickly emerged as a leader. Since then, she has surpassed the achievements of every NCAA basketball coach in history.
Growing up on a farm in Henrietta, Tenn., Summitt was expected to chop tobacco, bale hay, milk cows and fix tractors like her three older brothers. She learned basketball in two-on-two games with them on the court her father built in the hayloft of a barn.
The cutthroat contests helped prepare Summitt as a player who started on the 1976 Olympic team that won a silver medal. Coming from hard work, Summitt prepares her team similarly. “Tennessee wins because, in the end, our players feel they have worked too hard not to,” she wrote in her 1998 book, Reach for the Summit.
Summitt entered her 35th season as head coach of Tennessee this year with a staggering eight NCAA basketball titles and 983 wins. With the momentum of its most recent NCAA title in 2008, Tennessee hit the ground running this season for the remaining 17 victories toward Summitt’s 1,000.
The season hasn’t been easy, however. As Summitt creeps closer to her 1,000th career victory, she is “losing patience” with her young, less-experienced team.
How will it play out tonight? Tune into ESPN2 for the tip-off at 7:30 EST.