No debate: Summitt the best ever

Updated: March 20, 2005, 11:23 AM ET
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

(Editor's note: This article was originally written in January 2002, when Pat Summitt topped the 800-win plauteau. It does not include statistics from the past three seasons.)

Nobody has done it as well for as long as Pat Summitt.

Patt Summitt
Pat Summitt is a Naismith Hall of Famer and six-time NCAA champion.
Although the Tennessee legend on Tuesday became the first women's college basketball coach to win 800 games, one of Summitt's other numbers is most impressive: her six NCAA titles.

Texas' Jody Conradt might not be too far behind in career wins, but only John Wooden has won more national titles, capturing 10 while at UCLA.

In addition to her winning ways, Summitt's consistency and longevity are the two attributes that set her apart and make her the greatest coach in the history of the women's game.

Summitt, who on Tuesday became the first women's coach to reach the 800-win plateau, is the only coach to take her team to the NCAA Tournament every year since it was first held in 1982, and last March she made her 13th Final Four appearance to surpass Wooden's previous NCAA mark.

From her first season in 1974-75, she has produced a winning record every season, never losing more than 11 games. Over 29 years, she boasts an 800-161 career coaching mark. That's an 83.3 winning percentage.

Part of Summitt's legacy is she was the first to truly embrace a difficult nonconference schedule, taking on the best of the best year after year. Although she took some early lumps, her willingness to put it on the line has paid off. Her vision always has been long-term, on what happens in March, not what your record is heading into March. And now, teams all over the country are adopting that philosophy and strength of schedule has even become an important criteria for the NCAA Selection Committee.

Summitt is quick to acknowledge that winning 800 games wouldn't have been possible if she hadn't been hired so young. The Naismith Hall of Famer was just 22 when she took over the Lady Vols, and not many coaches are given that opportunity nowadays. But part of Summitt's success has to be traced back to her playing days when she was competing for the U.S. national team. She was fortunate to play for coaches such as Cathy Rush, Billie Moore, Sue Gunter and Alberta Cox, some of the greatest minds in women's college basketball in its early stages. Summitt connected with them and absorbed their knowledge, and the experiences helped her formulate what kind of coach she wanted to be.

She combined that with the type of player she was -- very intense and very solid fundamentally -- and it has shaped her coaching style.

Summitt is a great tactician and hands-on coach. She holds great practices -- her breakdown drills are among the best. Another one of her greatest assets is her willingness to learn and change with the times. Whether it's Billie Moore, John Wooden, Phil Jackson or Harry Paretta, she doesn't think twice about going out and asking for input or new ideas. Never mind that she has won six titles. She knows she doesn't have all the answers. She wants to learn more. She's open-minded to change and not too worried about who the credit goes to.

Kids want to play for her because they know they will become better players, and that even when they leave Knoxville, they will still flourish because Summitt taught them how to better play the game, not just her system.

And at 50, she presumably has a lot of years ahead of her. And Summitt is only getting better.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

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