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A legacy defined: Pat Summitt leaves her mark

As we enter what may be the twilight of an era, Swish Appeal takes a look at the mark that Pat Summitt has left on the world of women's basketball.

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"You can't always be the strongest or most talented or most gifted person in the room, but you can be the most competitive." - Pat Summitt

When looking at the life of Pat Summitt, it's easy to look at the wins and losses and assume she is an all-time great.

A record of 1,098-208 (currently the best record in NCAA/NAIA history) will earn you that respect. However, the legacy of Summitt will forever be defined by the people she has inspired and the lasting impact she has created for the world of women's basketball.

To start, let's look at her career as a player. In 1976, Summitt, as co-captain, was part of the first-ever USA women's basketball team in Montreal, winning the silver medal. To make this even more impressive, she did this while she was a second-year head coach at the University of Tennessee (the team finished with a 16-11 record) and completing her master's degree in physical education.

Eight years later, in 1984, Summitt won NCAA Coach of the Year honors while leading the Lady Volunteers to the NCAA title game, and became the first U.S. Olympian to win a medal as a player and coach a medal-winning team. At the 1984 Olympics in Taipei, Summitt (with fellow Lady Vol Cindy Noble), led the women's basketball team to their first-ever gold medal (their first of seven).

Though she was only head coach on one Olympic team (Summitt served as an assistant on the 1980 team, though they did not compete in the Olympics due to boycott), Summitt was even more of a wizard in college basketball.

From 1974 to 2012, Summitt won eight national championships (including three straight from 1993 to 1995), 16 Southeastern Conference (SEC) championships, and was named Coach of the Year 15 times (8x NCAA, 7x SEC). Summitt was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 by President Barack Obama, the first (and currently only) women's basketball coach to ever receive the prestigious honor.

Her overall coaching career is one that even the best of men's basketball coaches cannot measure against. Only one men's college basketball coach in the history of the NCAA or NAIA has more wins than Summitt (Harry Statham of McKendree University with 1,101 since 1966 - he is still currently coaching).

To put it in perspective, John Wooden, who is considered to be the greatest men's coach of all time, only had 664 wins in a 29-year career.

However, to only look at her wins would undervalue Summitt's overall role as a leader.

"I want to continue to do is to help these young women be successful. You don't just say goodbye at the end of their playing careers and end it there."

When Summitt first started out at the University of Tennessee as a graduate assistant in 1974, she also washed the team's uniforms and served as the team bus driver. She became head coach in the same season after the previous coach had just quit.

In her 38 years as head coach of the Lady Vols, Summitt coached 6 U.S. Olympians (five of which won gold), 45 future coaches and also accomplished another amazing feat: every player that ever finished her eligibility under Summitt has graduated with a degree. To give you another example of how great Summitt was as a coach, she was asked to become head coach of the men's basketball team at Tennessee...TWICE.

Even after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia in May of 2011, Summitt still had the strength to lead the Lady Vols. During the 2011-12 season, while she had a reduced role as head coach, Summitt won her last SEC championship.

Tyler Summitt, Pat's son and former head coach at Louisiana Tech University, spoke candidly in an interview with Aging Care about how the diagnosis had changed not only his life, but hers as well.

"Since my mother's diagnosis, our relationship has only grown closer," Summitt said. "My mom has had a profound impact on the person I have become. She taught me through love, discipline, example, and encouragement."

In a 2013 interview with NPR, Sally Jenkins, who co-authored Summitt's last book, "Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective", called Summitt "subversive" in defining her role as an evolutionary of women's basketball.

"I asked Pat if she was a feminist," Jenkins said. "And she said, 'No, I'm not a sign carrier.' And I said, 'Well, I know what you are - you're a subversive.' And she said, 'That's exactly right.' I think Pat took the concept of athletics that was used to define confidence and excellence in men, and stole it and gave it to women."

To say that Pat Summitt has had an impact on women's basketball is an understatement. Pat Summitt will forever be seen as a leading figure in the sport of basketball, and not just for her coaching. Her ability to be a great leader has influenced many people across the sports world.