In 38 years as the head women’s basketball coach at Tennessee, Pat Summitt’s Lady Vols racked up an unbelievable 1,098-208 (.840) overall record, won eight NCAA national championships, made a record-setting 31-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and never had a losing season.
Numbers aside though, Summitt’s legacy stretches far beyond wins and titles.
Summitt was a pioneer in the women’s game, motivating and leading young women to their fullest potential. She nurtured and inspired her players in an unparalleled manner. She not only pushed them to be the best athletes they could be, but the best people they could be. She inspired girls and women to excel on the court. She changed societal perceptions, earning respect with an icy, blue glare that opened doors for girls and women to express fierce intensity. She made it cool for girls and women to compete – to compete in the sporting arena, and in life.
Summitt’s influence and legacy truly shines through the successes of her former players and staff, and the millions she touched.
Indiana Fever star and former Lady Vol Tamika Catchings is a shining example of Summitt’s lasting legacy, certainly one of the brightest and most visible of all of Summit’s former players. Considering Catchings’ current Legacy Tour and its “pay it forward” nature to spread community efforts to every WNBA city – Catchings is a very vibrant and living, breathing example of Summitt’s legacy.
Catchings and Summitt didn’t just spend four years together at Tennessee. During a heartfelt conference call with media on the afternoon following Summitt’s passing, Catchings recalled the first time she met her mentor, when she was only 13 years old. Catchings dreamt of donning an orange Lady Vols uniform and playing for Summitt. Little did she know that Summitt, through a relationship lasting roughly 23 years, would become the greatest influence in her life.
Following Indiana’s win on Dallas last weekend, Catchings flew to Knoxville on Sunday, June 26, when it was learned the coach’s health was declining. She was among a small list of friends and family invited to share final moments with the legendary coach. Catchings returned to Indianapolis for practice with the Fever on Monday, but when Summitt passed early Tuesday morning, the Fever star mourned privately and missed Tuesday’s practice.
“Everything that I do now, I learned from Pat,” said Catchings
On her drive to Chicago for Wednesday’s 26-point scoring effort and a win over the Sky, Catchings recalled one of her favorite memories of her coach, long after her years at Tennessee. “A whole bunch of memories have flooded my mind but the one that stands out the most right now is giving her a hug after we won the 2012 [WNBA Finals],” said Catchings, who was named the MVP of that Finals series.
Catchings had dedicated the 2012 season to her former coach after learning that she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s the previous year.
After Summitt’s passing, Catchings produced inspired efforts last week at Chicago, and in Friday’s home loss to San Antonio. Totaling 38 points in two games, she contributed five rebounds, nine assists and seven steals. She shot 50 percent from the floor and was perfect on 15 free throw attempts.
But carrying on Summitt’s legacy is more than just stats and winning.
“Everything that I do now, I learned from Pat,” said Catchings, whose emotional week of mourning and inspiration fell smack-dab in the middle of Legacy Tour visits in Dallas and Chicago – each of them high school hometowns where she made her final appearance as a pro, with wins in each game. Those very high schools – Stephenson High in suburban Chicago and Duncanville High located just south of Dallas – were the schools from which Summitt recruited Catchings as a teenager.
Though Catchings learned many things from her mentor and friend, the most important thing she says Coach Summitt taught her was this: “Give 100 percent in every single thing that you do, but always carry yourself with class and have integrity.”
That integrity and motivation has been present throughout Catchings’ 16-year WNBA career – and marked by nearly annual sportsmanship, citizen-athlete and humanitarian awards. In Catchings’ final WNBA season, she unveiled her Legacy Tour in order to give back to the communities in each of the 12 WNBA cities.
“With the Legacy Tour, just coming up with the idea of it, it was not ever to celebrate and honor me,” explained Catchings. “It was more to do the things that Pat taught me about giving back, continuing to pay it forward and continuing to help those that are around us.”
Instead of accepting gifts and praise during visits to each city in her final season, Catchings hosts a postgame meet & greet for fans of each city. She donates $2,000 to a local charity comparable to her own Catch the Stars Foundation, and a postgame auction includes a unique pair of her game-worn shoes from the game just completed. The donation, auction and meet & greet are intended to lay the groundwork for future camps, clinics and mentoring programs Catchings hopes to expand to each city.
Long before the Legacy Tour, Catchings’ established her Catch the Stars Foundation in order to inspire youth to strive to reach their goals. With fitness, literacy and mentoring the primary missions of the organization she founded in 2004, the foundation has become a well-regarded charitable agency in Indianapolis and Central Indiana. This summer’s Legacy Tour helps further the foundation’s mission to help children achieve their dreams.
“Everything that I’ve done is part of her legacy,” said Catchings, referring to Summitt. “She’ll always be a part of my life and she’ll always be a part of my journey. She’ll always be a part of everything.”
Catchings is but a tiny sampling of the lives that Summitt ultimately touched.
“I think the impact she had on the game spans a lot wider and a lot farther than just the impact on the individuals that were underneath her,” said Catchings. “It’s one thing to think about the players that were underneath her, but to also think about the millions and possibly billions of people that she impacted.”
— Tamika Catchings (@Catchin24) June 29, 2016
Through all of the people she impacted, Summitt’s legacy lives on.