- Melanie Jackson, Women's Basketball
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Tennessee coach Pat Summitt had her own game to worry about.
The Lady Vols would face Vanderbilt in the SEC semifinals in South Carolina's Bi-Lo Center in just a couple hours. But for a second, the typically intense and focused Summitt might have allowed her attention to wander back to her home state.
That afternoon in Chattanooga, Tenn., coach Kellie (Jolly) Harper had just led underdog Western Carolina to a double-overtime win in the Southern Conference tournament final, clinching the Lady Catamounts' first trip to the NCAA Tournament. And in becoming the first coach in SoCon history to lead her team to the tourney crown in her inaugural season, Harper also became the latest former Lady Volunteer to find success on the sideline as a player-turned-coach.
Of course, there have been many before her, and one of Summitt's greatest legacies will be the impact she has had on the women's coaching ranks. In all, 57 of Summitt's former players, assistant coaches, graduate assistants and even a manager, are coaching at the professional, collegiate or high school ranks.
"If Pat were a horse, she'd be studded," said ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman, who has played alongside and for Summitt. "They'd send her out to Claiborne Farms in Kentucky and her sires would be worth millions."
Combined, Summitt's coaching offspring probably do make millions. But this March, they've also produced something even more important: No. 1 seeds. Former Tennessee graduate assistant Sylvia Hatchell (1974-75) has coached North Carolina to the top seed in the Tempe Regional.
Longtime former assistant Al Brown (1991-2002), who, like former Kodak All-American Semeka Randall, is in his first season as an assistant at Michigan State, helped the Spartans win a share of just their second Big Ten regular-season title and the program's first conference tournament title. More importantly, Michigan State was awarded the top seed in the Kansas City Regional.
In the SEC alone, four head coaches are former Summitt disciples. Mickie DeMoss, who coached with Summitt in Knoxville for 19 years, is in her second season at Kentucky. Sharon Fanning, a graduate assistant from 1975-76, is Mississippi State's head coach.
Nell Fortner, who never was on Tennessee's payroll but certainly learned a lot of what she knows from Summitt -- who is praised for Tennessee's 100 percent graduation rate as much as for the pride she takes in teaching every aspect of the game -- and her staff, is in her first season at Auburn. And Carolyn Peck, who worked with the Lady Vols in 1993-95, has been at Florida for the past three seasons.
Peck is one of two former Summitt assistants to go on to win a national championship, leading Purdue to the 1999 title. Hatchell's Tar Heels won it all in 1994. Former assistant Nancy Darsch (1978-85) guided Ohio State to the 1993 NCAA title game, had two head coaching positions in the WNBA and is currently an assistant with the Minnesota Lynx.
And then, of course, there's Harper, who -- thanks to the NCAA Selection Committee's sense of humor -- will face her mentor Sunday. Top-seeded Tennessee drew 16th-seeded Western Carolina as its first-round foe, and the game will likely be historic.
But unlike Peck -- the only one to record a victory over her former boss (Peck's Purdue team snapped Tennessee's 46-game win streak on Nov. 15, 1998) -- Harper's Catamounts will likely get their name etched in the record books for losing. A Tennessee victory Sunday gives Summitt win No. 879, and a share of the all-time wins mark, currently held by former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. Tennessee has never lost in the first round, a record Harper helped keep intact when she helped guide the Lady Vols to three NCAA titles in 1996-98.
Win or lose, Summitt already is impressed with Harper's quick success.
"Kellie Jolly has been really special to our program and me," said Summitt, who called Harper to congratulate her following the SoCon win. "I'm really proud of what she has done at Western Carolina. I just think that her knowledge of the game, what she did in this program, not as being the most talented player on the floor, but being one of the smartest and most disciplined players that knew how to lead players and make them better."
And now, like Summitt before her, Harper's teaching her players to do the same.
Melanie Jackson coordinates ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
In all, 57 of Pat Summitt's former players and assistants are coaching at the pro, college or high school ranks.