The late Pat (Head) Summitt was a trailblazer. At 24, the oldest member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team in the inaugural Olympic women’s basketball tournament, Summitt eight years later would become the first U.S. basketball Olympic medalist to lead the USA to Olympic gold as a head coach.
A basketball player at the University of Tennessee-Martin, Summitt was named as a University of Tennessee graduate assistant for the 1974-75 season. She was elevated to head coach shortly thereafter and coached her first game on Dec. 7, 1974.
While competing for Tennessee-Martin, Summitt donned the red, white and blue uniform for the first time as a member of the 1973 USA World University Games Team that finished with a 5-3 record and in possession of the silver medal.
After her first season at Tennessee, which she would build into a women’s basketball powerhouse within five years, Summitt was selected to compete in a pair of competitions in 1975.
Because of the timing of the FIBA World Cup, the U.S. fielded a team which would not only compete in the World Cup, but also represent the U.S. at the Pan American Games, which were to be held in Mexico City eight days after the World Cup.
While the United States compiled a 4-3 record at the ’75 World Cup, the three defeats came by an average of 3.0 points a game. Nevertheless, the USA used the experience to prep for the Pan Ams, and it resulted in the first gold medal for the USA in PAGs play since 1963, ending a 12-year draught.
Armed with the experience gained in 1975, nine members of that team, Summitt included, were named to the 1976 U.S. Olympic Qualifying Team in hopes of qualifying for the first Olympic women’s basketball tournament in history. Out of the nine teams in the tournament, just two would advance to play in Montreal. The USA did not disappoint – wrapping up the tournament with a 5-0 slate and a ticket to the Olympics in hand.
In her final competition as a U.S. athlete, Summitt and her teammates posted a 3-2 record, including a solid 83-67 victory against Czechoslovakia in its final game, which helped break the three-way tie for second place, and the USA earned silver, the first Olympic medal in women’s basketball for the United States.
But, her history with USA Basketball didn’t stop there. In 1977, the summer after she led Tennessee to its first AIAW (the precursor to the NCAA) Final Four, Summitt was head coach for the gold-medal winning USA Junior Pan American Games Team.
She returned to the USA helm in 1979, after her second AIAW Final Four appearance, and headed up three teams. Compiling a 16-2 record, Summitt-coached USA teams earned gold at the FIBA World Cup and R. William Jones Cup and a silver medal at the Pan American Games.
In her lone stint as a USA Basketball assistant coach, Summitt helped Sue Gunter and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Qualifying Team to a 5-1 slate and the gold medal in Bulgaria. While the USA didn’t compete in the 1980 Olympics, which were held in Moscow, the finish established the United States as an Olympic favorite.
In 1983 Summitt was head coach of the USA World Cup Team, which finished with a 6-2 record and in possession of the silver medal. More important was the fact that both losses were against the Soviet Union and by a total of three points, once again showing the world the U.S. was gaining ground on the Soviets in women’s basketball.
In her final showing on a USA Basketball team, Summitt became the first person in USA Basketball history to earn an Olympic medal as an athlete and coach when she led the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team to the USA’s first women’s gold medal in history in dominating fashion. Ahead of the Olympics, Summitt took the U.S. squad to Taiwan for the R. William Jones Cup as a warm-up for the Olympics, and that team also swept the competition for gold.
The 1984 Olympic women's basketball competition began with some disappointment, as the eagerly awaited Olympic showdown between the United States and Soviet Union women was once again prevented by politics, this time it was the Soviet team that did not compete. However, by the time the 1984 competition ended, the U.S. women had plenty to celebrate as the Americans cruised to their first Olympic gold medal with a perfect 6-0 slate, and in the process had outscored their opponents by an average of 32.7 points per game. No opponent managed to score more than 61 points, and the USA’s lowest point total of any game was 81.
Summitt cemented her legacy in 1984 on the international stage and continued to excel on home soil. In her first seven years as a head coach, Summit led Tennessee to four AIAW Final Fours.
Since the dawn of women’s basketball play in the NCAA, Summitt’s Lady Vols earned eight NCAA titles and never missed an NCAA Tournament. She coached teams in 15 NCAA/AIAW championship games, the most in history; advanced to 18 Final Fours and every player who completed her eligibility at Tennessee under Summitt played in at least one Elite Eight.
A 1999 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Summitt was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2000 and the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2013. She was named the 2000 Naismith Basketball Coach of the Century and earned eight National Coach of the Year honors. In 2012 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and was the Arthur Ashe Courage Award recipient at the ESPYs.
Her story, however, is much more than wins, losses and accolades. She relished helping young women grow on and off the court during their time in Knoxville. In addition to the numerous Olympians and World Cup athletes and national players of the year she coached, no less than 25 of her former athletes or assistant coaches continue Summitt’s legacy in the coaching ranks or as members of basketball office staffs.
|1984 Olympic Games||Head Coach||6-0||1.000||Gold Medal|
|1984 R. William Jones Cup||Head Coach||8-0||1.000||Gold Medal|
|1983 World Championship||Head Coach||6-2||.750||Silver Medal|
|1980 Olympic Games||Assistant Coach||n/a||.---||DNC|
|1980 Olympic Qualifying Tournament||Assistant Coach||5-1||.833||Gold Medal|
|1979 World Championship||Head Coach||5-1||.833||Gold Medal|
|1979 Pan American Games||Head Coach||5-1||.833||Silver Medal|
|1979 R. William Jones Cup||Head Coach||6-0||1.000||Gold Medal|
|1977 Junior Pan American Games||Head Coach||5-0||1.000||Gold Medal|
|Head Coach Totals||41-4||.911||5 Gold Medals, 2 Silver Medals|
|Assistant Coach Totals||5-1||.833||1 Gold Medal|
|USA Basketball Coach Totals||46-5||.902||6 Gold Medals, 2 Silver Medals|
|1976 Olympic Games||3-2||.600||Silver Medal|
|1976 Olympic Qualifying Tournament||5-0||1.000||Gold Medal|
|1975 Pan American Games||7-0||1.000||Gold Medal|
|1975 FIBA World Cup||4-3||.571||8th Place|
|1973 World University Games||5-3||.625||Silver Medal|
|Totals||24-8||.750||2 Gold Medals, 2 Silver Medals|