Commentary

Win No. 1,000 arrives ... just as planned?

Originally Published: February 5, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

This is exactly the way it was supposed to work out for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's 1,000th victory. Seriously, if you look really hard in Nostradamus' prophecies, it was predicted to happen just this way. Not sure which translation, but you know, it's in there somewhere.

• That Summitt would need to count to 10 before blowing up many, many times in a season of dealing with a team that had one senior and seven freshmen. (This exemplifies teaching.)

[+] EnlargePat Summitt
Mark Zerof/US PresswirePat Summitt thanked the University of Tennessee for all its support and the 153 players who have suited up for her over 35 seasons.

• That Summitt would lose her best post defender for the rest of the season in the game that provided her the first chance to hit 1,000. (This exemplifies overcoming obstacles.)

• That Summitt, after that loss, would be obsessed with two things in particular: playing hard for 40 minutes and ball security. Basic stuff that you might think would get boring after 35 years of explaining it -- first to players barely younger than her, now to kids who could be those early players' daughters. (This exemplifies tireless attention to detail.)

• That Summitt would go back to Knoxville, her beloved Rocky Top, and concentrate on re-energizing players she knew wanted to give their all, but hadn't quite figured out how to do that yet. (This exemplifies nurturing.)

• That Summitt would tell the most important person in the world to her, son Tyler, that he needed to go play in his high school basketball game Thursday, rather than be in Thompson-Boling Arena to watch her go for a historic win. (This exemplifies commitment to duty.)

• That Summitt, against one of her oldest foes, would help her team deliver. (This exemplifies getting it done.)

Life was "grand" for Summitt on Thursday night, as Tennessee put the clobber on Georgia, 73-43, in front of 16,058 fans.

Georgia coach Andy Landers had sent Summitt a text message before her team's game Monday against Oklahoma, which said, "Win … or I'll be p.o.'ed."

Summitt had laughed at that, thinking about how many battles she has had with Landers over the years -- the most important of which (twice in the Final Four) she has won. For Pete's sake, these two coaches were slugging it out on the basketball court before the wisest egghead had even conceived of such a thing as a text message.

"In our younger days, it was so competitive that I'm not sure we were as cordial," Summitt said. "But with so many years behind us and so many games that we've played, I guess we had to learn to keep things in perspective."

Perhaps. But after Oklahoma's 80-70 win Monday, probably the only person anywhere near as, um, ticked off as Summitt had to be Landers.

He was headed into the Orange Palace of Doom, to play on a court named "The Summitt," to try to delay the inevitable at least one more game. Wouldn't you be ticked off, too?

Well, it had to happen to somebody. And while Nostradamus was a little vague on exactly whom the 1,000th victim would be -- a "long-suffering foe" could mean just about any team against Tennessee -- we in modern times could have guessed it had to be Georgia or Vanderbilt.

Vandy, instead, made it "possible" for Georgia to have to endure this fate. The Commodores got just their seventh victory in the series with Tennessee -- against 52 losses -- on Jan. 11. Another long-sufferer, Auburn, stuck it to Georgia, too. The Tigers ended a 16-game losing streak to Tennessee, winning on Jan. 25.

If neither of those losses had happened, Summitt would have gotten her 1,000th win a week ago in a nail-biter at home against Mississippi. But, no, it just had to come against such a valiant foe as Georgia -- the Southeastern Conference program that has won more against Tennessee than any other team in the league.

Georgia entered Thursday's game 14-39 all-time against Tennessee. Landers' group had some momentum, having won its last four in a row and six of seven.

Tennessee, meanwhile, was dragging. Summitt had been especially peeved Monday that her team had allowed Oklahoma's Whitney Hand to shoot 8-for-9 from the field and score 20 points.

"It wasn't like we didn't watch her on tape -- I just want you all to be aware that we did," Summitt wryly told reporters after that game. "We knew who she was."

So to address that lapse by her players, Summitt had them do the scouting report for Georgia, not her assistants. She decided that would get the point across about how important it was to really pay attention to the report.

"[To know] how many hours our coaches are watching tape and handing them, supposedly, the answers to the test," she said. "As opposed to them having to invest in it. With Oklahoma and the lack of commitment to a scouting report, we said, 'You do it and maybe you'll respect it more.'"

[+] EnlargePat Summitt
AP Photo/Wade PayneThe Lady Vols showered Pat Summitt with confetti after her historic 1,000th coaching victory Thursday.

Seems like that worked. Tennessee had been plagued by turnovers of late -- but had just 11 against Georgia. Four players scored in double figures, led by Glory Johnson with 20. Kelley Cain, whom Summitt said beforehand had to step forward now that Vicki Baugh is out with an ACL injury suffered Monday, had 12 points and six blocked shots. Georgia shot just 35.4 percent from the field.

How do you get to 1,000? By working just as hard before this one as you did before victory No. 248. Or 561. Or 739.

After this win, Summitt got all kinds of neat stuff, including a painting and some jewelry and a "star" that will go on Knoxville's river walk and a plaque from the SEC and yet another milestone commemorative basketball.

She got choked up thanking the fans, staff and players, saying as she always does that this was every bit as much about them as it was about her. Indeed, Summitt has inspired great loyalty from very accomplished people -- including Katie Winn, the only secretary she has ever had, and Debby Jennings, the only media relations director the program has had.

Jennings wrote a recently published hardcover book titled "The University of Tennessee Basketball Vault." If you are a Tennessee/Summitt fan, you have to get this. You'll love it. It is a history of the program through the 2008 championship season. The book includes cool stuff tucked in every few pages, such as mini-posters, stickers, a pennant, Final Four postcards, and copies of telegrams and letters.

Including a letter, dated April 30, 1974, that Summitt received about six weeks before her 22nd birthday, when she was finishing her college days at Tennessee-Martin. It was from Helen B. Watson, professor and chair of Tennessee-Knoxville's department of physical education for women.

Summitt had received a graduate assistant appointment in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Knoxville. But Watson wondered if she'd be interested in doing something else, too.

I would like to ask you if you would be willing to coach our women's basketball team next year. … We have an excellent potential team and I believe that they would be happy to have you as their coach."

The road to 1,000 started there. The letter also said Summitt would need to teach in the fall and spring, but could focus on only coaching in the winter. What a luxury, huh?

Suffice to say, maybe Helen B. Watson is really Nostradamus in this tale. She sure predicted it right. Ever since she sent that letter, all of Tennessee's women's basketball teams have been happy to have Summitt as their coach.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com/.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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