- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
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You know that Sports Illustrated cover from March 1998 that featured a close-up of Pat Summitt? The "Wizard of Knoxville" cover that focuses on only one half of her face, yet the look is so penetrating and serious that maybe half was all we could take?
Well, while playing for Summitt on the U.S. junior national team in 1977, I saw a look from Pat that made that SI cover look mild.
Back then, Pat was just getting started and was very tough and very hard on her players. She wanted to bring out the best in us and that was how she did it. She was a by-the-book coach with a blue-collar approach. Pat played the percentages -- bang it inside and play in-your-face, man-to-man defense.
We were playing in a gold-medal game in an international tournament in Mexico City and losing at halftime. I came out of the locker room and Pat cornered me. We were standing there, face-to-face, but she kept poking me in the middle of my chest with her finger. She was so mad at me and had literally backed me up against a wall.
She said, "How many rebounds did you average during the season?" I stuttered out an answer, telling Pat I'd grabbed about 10 a game at Old Dominion the previous college season.
Her response? "You haven't grabbed 10 rebounds in the past two weeks. You better go out there and rebound or I'm going to send you home."
I was so scared that I went out and probably was beating up my teammates for boards. I must have had 10 or 12 in the second half alone. We ended up winning the gold.
A lot can change in 25 years. But there are some things you just don't forget, such as a steely stare from Summitt that made me hold my breath. I was probably blue in the face by the time I risked inhaling. But playing for the Tennessee Lady Vols coach and six-time NCAA champion was an excellent experience for me during my playing career.
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.
12dBonnie D. Ford