Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lady Vols' first title was special for Sexton

The Tennessee women's basketball program has been built by Pat Summitt. We've all heard the number over the past year, seven national titles. But, only 14 women can say they helped Summitt get the very first one.

"We have a reunion every year of former Lady Vols," Shelley Sexton-Collier said. "At the last one, one of the members of that 1986-87 team said that the girls on this year's team might get another national championship, but that they'll never be able to have the first one."

Sexton-Collier found herself in a fierce recruiting battle between Tennessee and Louisiana Tech in 1983. In the end, she chose to be a part of what Pat Summitt was putting together in Knoxville.

"I was so fortunate to get to play for some great coaches," Sexton-Collier said. "When I got to UT, I was already fundamentally sound on the defensive end. I think Pat saw some characteristics in me that were in her. We have the same personality traits.

"Things were just so different back then. I remember one time we were in Starkville playing Mississippi State. It was so quiet, with only about 100 fans in the stands, that I remember hearing Bob Kesling with the radio call on the sideline during the game. We had good crowds in Knoxville, but nothing like they get now at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"When I was playing at Tennessee, the women's game was a lot different than it is now. There were only two or three teams that were really good. Now, there are 10 or 11 that could win the national championship. It's just a different game now."

The first national title for the Lady Vols ended up being a story-book finish for Sexton-Collier.

"Wouldn't you know it that the championship game ended up being us against Louisiana Tech," she said. " We hadn't beaten them in my time at Tennessee, and this was the last chance. We were not the most talented team, but we were the best team. When we beat (coach) Leon Barmore and Louisiana Tech, it was an unbelievable ending to my career."

Now, 21 years later, Sexton-Collier has groomed a player at Webb School who she thinks has a great chance to be a superstar with the Lady Vols.

"Glory Johnson is one of those 'once-in-a-lifetime' type players," Sexton-Collier said. "Those types of athletes don't come along every day. She is one of the best players in the country that every school in America wanted. I think she has a chance to contribute immediately for Pat."

Those who have seen Sexton-Collier coach see a lot of Summitt in her. She has the same intensity that Summitt has, and she also has the respect of her players like Summitt.

"If I'm ever mentioned in the same breath as Pat, it's an unbelievable compliment," Sexton-Collier said. " She is simply the best. Pat has been at a lot of our games and she's always helped me out in any way that she could. She's been a mentor to me and that relationship has been very special."

As for whether Sexton-Collier had any influence on Johnson's commitment to Tennessee? She says absolutely not.

"I never pushed anything on Glory," Sexton-Collier said. "This was her decision and hers alone. If she was interested in UT, it was because that's what she wanted."

Sexton-Collier has plenty of women in her life now. She's a coach and has four daughters.

"It's a full-time job," Sexton-Collier said. "But, you know what? I'm loving every minute of it."

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