Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Pat's biggest impact on her players

KNOXVILLE - Pat Summitt never claimed to do it all by herself.

"To the fans here tonight, you helped us build a great tradition," she said to a festive crowd of 13,188 inside Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday night, just moments after staking claim to the pinnacle of college basketball's all-time win list with a 75-54 victory over Purdue. "We couldn't have done this without you."

She also couldn't have done it without the 18 Kodak All-Americans that traversed through Knoxville in the last 31 years.

"Pat knew how to pull the best out of you," said former Lady Vol Daedra Charles, who helped lead Tennessee to two national championships in the early 1990s. "I never realized how good I could be. She helped me realize that. Kara Lawson, Tennessee's undisputed floor general near the turn of the decade, found Summitt to be much more than just a coach. ``She probably had more impact on me as a person than as a player,'' said Lawson, who flew cross-country all day and arrived at halftime. "She was just such a great example. She was a mother and such a great leader for us. She taught me a lot about leadership."

The stories seem to never end, even passing along to current player Shyra Ely, Tennessee's All-American senior forward.

``I came here because I knew that I would become an adult," said Ely, who scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Boilermakers. "I'm such a homebody, and I thought it was important for my parents, to know that Pat was going to take care of me while I was away.

``That's the thing about Pat Summitt. She genuinely cares about each and every one of us here.''

Almost lost in the commotion was the fact that the top-seeded Lady Vols advanced to their 24th consecutive Sweet Sixteen. An annual occurrence since the women's game installed a tournament format in 1981.

``I'm just so excited that this basketball team is going to Philadelphia," said Summitt, who had the court named in her honor after the contest. ``This team was able to get it done.

``We'll enjoy this tonight and start thinking about Texas Tech immediately (today)."

It was a typical attitude from the workmanlike Summitt, whose feelings have even transcended into her players' responses.

``This celebration is so deserved because of the magnitude of it," said junior guard Shanna Zolman, who added 15 points, ``but like she said, we're going to the Sweet Sixteen.

``I don't know how she did it, but she was always able to stay in the moment, and she never looked forward into the future."

And after a slow start that might have been attributed to pre-game jitters, the top-seeded Lady Vols dismantled Purdue with a 9-0 run midway through the first half to assure Summitt's milestone victory.

"You knew it was in the back of all of our minds," Ely said. ``We've all been blinded by it all week. You even look in the crowd and see `880'."

But you just have to separate it and live in the moment. We knew we had to take care of business."

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