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Coach Summitt: 'The role model I never played for'

An inside look at the life Pat Summitt touched -- and she never coached her. Coach Summitt had an influence on plenty of lives and it didn't have to be the hundreds of young women she coached.

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Pat Summitt is perhaps the best coach in the history of basketball. Not just women’s basketball. The sport of basketball. Period.

When I was 14, the Women’s Final Four was in Cleveland. I remember going with my mom to the open practice session, and getting to meet Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols. I shook her hand and told her "Good luck, coach"—For 14-year-old me, meeting her and Candace Parker on the same day was practically too exciting to bear.

The farm girl from Tennessee became a basketball icon and a pioneer. She was someone who showed an almost mythical amount of devotion to the game (after all, she still went on a recruiting trip despite going into labor). That’s why news this morning of her death from early-onset dementia is almost impossible to comprehend for anyone involved in women's basketball.

When I was younger, I dreamed of playing for Coach Summitt one day, as many young women’s basketball players did. And although I managed to play Division III college basketball, as I grew up, I realized how much of a role model she truly was.

This is a woman who at 22-years-old became the Lady Vols head coach, just two years after Title IX passed, at a time when the NCAA didn’t even recognize women’s basketball as a sport.

She wasn’t afraid to be tough, in an era when many believed toughness was a negative trait for a woman to possess or inspire. What Coach Summitt always understood was that women could play the game just as well, if not better, than the men.

What I loved most about Coach Summitt is the fact that she never took no for an answer.

When no one wanted to pay attention to the women’s game? She made them.

When the media didn’t feel the need to cover women’s basketball? She convinced them.

Pat Summitt indeed opened up the game of women’s basketball in an unprecedented way.

She brought out the best in her players and in all of us. It is because of her that someone like me is able to do what I do now.

One thousand ninety-eight wins. Eight national championships. Having every single player who completed eligibility in her program graduate. My column can’t possibly put her legacy into perspective. For all of us involved with the game: players, coaches, the media, Coach Summitt shaped so much—more than we can ever possibly hope to thank her for.

Pat Summitt never stopped fighting. After her diagnosis, she didn’t want pity. She started her Foundation, and aimed to touch the lives of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. I urge everyone to contribute what you can to The Pat Summitt Foundation, and join me in offering up thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.

"Lots of us get to coach the game, but very few people get to define the game," Geno Auriemma said on ESPN this morning.

Pat Summitt was a fighter until the very end. She is the best person this game could have hoped for. Such a force, that we will likely never be able to begin comprehending and calculating her influence. Every basketball fan was touched and inspired by Pat Summitt. For that, we should be eternally grateful.