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Star coaches remember Pat Summitt

While neither Lisa Bluder nor Bill Fennelly had a chance to take on one of Pat Summitt's team's, they both felt her impact on the game.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

IOWA CITY — Walking through a back hallway during the 2001 NCAA Tournament, Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder looked up.

Pat Summit was walking towards her.

Now Bluder, who was in her first year with the Hawkeyes, hadn't had much interaction with Summitt in the past. She didn't know her that well.

Yet when Summitt finally crossed paths with Bluder in that hallway, she stopped.

"Wow, you had a great year," Summitt told Bluder that day. "Congratulations. I love what you're doing [at Iowa]."

Now, 15 years later, Bluder still remembers that interaction with the legendary coach. Summitt's willingness to reach out to coaches — like she did to Bluder in 2001 — was a simple way to show how caring Summitt truly was.

"A lot of people would be nervous to talk to Pat Summitt," Bluder said. "But she initiated the contact. She would walk into the gym and say, ‘Hi, I'm Pat Summitt from Tennessee.' Well, everybody knew who you were, but she would be able to initiate the contact with a younger coach and kind of ease that.

"For me, that was remarkable."

Summitt died Tuesday morning, five years after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. She was 64.

And when Bluder first heard the news Tuesday morning, she had to take a moment.

"You sort of get socked in the stomach, because you can't imagine somebody that's so looked up by so many people and who has really been the face of women's basketball for so many years that she's gone," Bluder said. "It's hard to comprehend."

Summitt is, without a doubt, one of the best coaches ever to coach a college basketball team — men or women's. Summitt became the head coach at Tennessee in 1974, and instantly started building her basketball empire.

In her 38 seasons at Tennessee, she won eight national championships. She led the Lady Vols to 22 Final Fours, and made 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. She never had a losing record.

When Summitt stepped down in 2012, she had led the Lady Vols to 1,098 wins — the most in Division I basketball history.

"That was the standard," said Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly of Summitt's teams. "Tennessee Lady Vols basketball, from on the court, off the court, attendance, everything they did was something that was the gold standard for our sport."

Neither Fennelly, nor Bluder, got the chance to take on one of Summitt's teams. However, it wasn't hard for either of them to see what impact she had on the game.

When Summitt first started, women's college basketball wasn't a sport that was widely respected in the United States. They didn't have a lot of funding. They didn't have a lot of fans.

That all changed, Bluder said, with Summitt.

"She's the one that got this all started," Bluder said. "She started back when really a whole lot of people didn't care about women's basketball, and there weren't a lot of resources or help; she did everything. From mopping the floors, to cleaning the uniforms, everything in order to coach the game, and took it to unbelievable levels.

"If we didn't have Pat Summitt, I don't know if we would be where we are now with women's basketball."

Fennelly agrees, saying he understands how important Summitt was in allowing women's college basketball to progress throughout the years.

And her success on the court has catapulted her to a level very few sports figures ever attain.

"There's not many people that when you just say Pat, or LeBron, or Tiger, or Michael — when you just use one name and you know who it is, then you're big time. That's kind of the way she was."

So even though Summitt's time has ended, her legacy will undoubtedly live on.

The impact she had, not just on the players and coaches who passed through her gym, but on the rest of the sports world will be felt for years to come.

"We all wish we could live a life where we can say I really impacted other people," Fennelly said, "but very few can say that they did it in a manner of broad appeal and broad base impact as coach Summitt."