Friday, April 01, 2005

McCallie, MSU set to face a legend in Tennessee's Summitt

INDIANAPOLIS -- Pat Summitt, the Tennessee basketball coaching legend, was once listed on the resume of Joanne P. McCallie, the current Michigan State coach, as a reference.

As references go, it's gold in women's basketball, reference No. 1 from No. 1, akin to being anointed by the queen.

McCallie assumes it helped her get her first head coaching job at the University of Maine.

It's clear McCallie thinks the world of Summitt, who she will coach against head-to-head for the first time Sunday in the Final Four.

Michigan State and Tennessee meet in a national semifinal at 9 p.m., following the other semifinal between LSU and Baylor. The winners meet Tuesday for the national championship.

Summitt, 52, will be trying to land a seventh national title for the Tennessee program. McCallie, who coached against Summitt-coached teams several times in her days as an assistant coach, is leading the first Michigan State women's team to get past the second round of the tournament, let alone take a shot at a national title.

"I'm not surprised she's doing this one bit," Summit said. "You could see the fire, the toughness, the passion and the work ethic when she was an assistant at Auburn. You could see it when she was recruiting."

Fire, passion, toughness and work ethic are things often cited by the McCallies and others in the sports world regarding Summitt, who earlier in this NCAA tournament gained the 880th win of her coaching career.

It made national news for being one more than North Carolina legend Dean Smith had in the men's game. Though it's comparing apples and oranges in a way, and certainly doesn't diminish what Smith achieved, it lends perspective to just how well this woman has coached women basketball players at Tennessee for 31 years.

The numbers are incredible, just in terms of the NCAA tournament. Summitt-coached teams have won six national titles, and made it to 17 Final Fours. Her teams have also won 22 SEC tournament and regular-season titles and we haven't started to discuss her building a nationally recognized program in a sport that still runs a distant second to what the men do with almost any type of ball.

And she maintains the fire, maintains the excellence in her program. This senior class is the fourth class to have visited the Final Four in all four of their years.

She recruits, she coaches and she wins. She showed everybody else in women's hoops how to coach. She also never ducked anybody. According to the power ratings, her team faced the nation's toughest Division I schedule this season.

And all the while, as busy as she is keeping top players coming and going and learning and winning at Tennessee, she fits in being the No. 1 ambassador for the women's game, too.

Summitt didn't just build the women's program at Tennessee. She created the market for it, too. She used to fear public speaking, but overcame it to speak to civic groups as small as six folks about women's basketball for free. She estimated she did 75 such talks, often three in one day in the weeks after coaching the Olympic team in 1984.

Today, she charges corporations big bucks for such talks, and they line up to hear her motivate. When they list the people who know how to win in sport, any sport, she should be on the list.

Pokey Chatman, the women's coach at LSU, told SEC reporters earlier this season that she marveled at the length of time in which Summitt has excelled.

"Pat is women's basketball as we know it," she said.

And to a lot of folks, she is all they know of women's basketball, the only one who can get them to pause to notice.

When she started her coaching career at Tennessee in the fall of 1974, Summitt was unsure of herself.

"I wasn't even sure what my philosophy, my style would be like," she said.

She was 22, working with some 21-year-old players. She remembers being excited, frightened and in over her head when she settled on a basic course of action.

"Go in and be tough," she told herself. "You can always let up."

The let up part hasn't happened yet.

It won't happen when she squares off against McCallie, that spunky kid who used to help Joe Ciampi try to beat her at Auburn, the same McCallie who now has a former seven-year assistant to Summitt on her staff in Al Brown, and one of those former Tennessee star players, Semeka Randall, on the staff, as well.

Summitt let up?

Not a chance, no matter the outcome this weekend. She's driven, she's special, she's the best at what she does -- and she is revered by many.

Indianapolis Colt's star quarterback Peyton Manning, then in his football days at Tennessee, was struggling to decide if he should leave early for the pros. He met with Summitt to discuss it.

Think about it. At the worst, her name was going to look good on a resume.

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