When someone the likes of Pat Summitt passes away, you realize the word legend gets ascribed to far too many people. Certainly, "legend" applies to some. To fewer, it's "Legend", with a capital L. But it's a step further still for Pat Summitt: L.E.G.E.N.D. Tennessee's longtime Women's Basketball Coach, who won eight (8) National Championships and 1,098 games before retiring in 2012 after being diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease, died last week at the age of 64. The full extent of what she's truly responsible for is likely yet to be determined. More than anyone else, Summitt made Women's Basketball something to pay attention to. She took it seriously (really seriously) long before anyone else did. In her wake, females learned something about themselves - that their athletic ceilings went far beyond where they previously believed them to go. Girls High School Basketball in the State of Tennessee, in order to safeguard its players from injury, was a 6-on-6 half-court game when Summitt took over as coach of the Volunteers. Because of that, she refused to recruit in-state. Within a few years, the regular 5-on-5 format was adopted. Young women learned to test their limits, because Pat Summitt refused for a second to let their minds and bodies even consider something as flimsy as limits. As a direct result, competition and the level of play in the sport increased and increased over the years. So much would follow: The NCAA Women's Tournament field expanded to 64, just like the Men -- with its own grandiose Final Four settings and TV contracts. That amount of high level talent coming out of college grew, indicating that a professional league could potentially sustain itself. Two decades later - happy 20th anniversary to the WNBA! I've spent a lot of time around Women's College Basketball over the past two (2) decades.. from covering Virginia Cavaliers' hoops and Hall of Fame Coach (7-time ACC Coach of the Year) Debbie Ryan in the '90s to doing Play-by-Play for Florida Gulf Coast's transcendent Women's program this decade under the tutelage of sure-fire future Hall of Fame Coach Karl Smesko. I've seen rabid FGCU fans pack Alico Arena in Fort Myers to cheer on the ladies, even outdrawing the popular Men's team numerous times. Thanks for all of that goes directly back to one person. Pat Summitt and mediocrity never crossed paths. She had no time for it. So, Coach.. may you rest in peace. Your contributions will live on for eternity.
Tom James is a 2-time Edward R. Murrow Award-winning sportscaster, who does play-by-play & studio work for the ESPN Family of Networks (including ESPN Wide World of Sports, ESPN3, college football, basketball, & a wide array of other sports), CBS Sports Network, Lax Sports Network, & Pro Watercross. Tom also hosts and produces sports documentaries & is part of the weekly regionally syndicated college football radio show, "Southern Pigskin Tonight."