Summitt on top of hoops world

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By Robert Howey

You never forget when you cross paths with greatness. The thought crossed my mind earlier this week when I heard Hall of Fame Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt was retiring.
Last August, Summitt announced she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s-type dementia. Her illness and health led to her decision, but she will remain close to the program as head coach emeritus.
Coach Summitt made her announcement Wednesday, April 18, which rekindled memories of another mid-April date some years back.
The exact date was April 17, 1984 and on that day, I  crossed paths with greatness, coach Pat Summitt. Coach Summitt has 1,098 wins in 38 seasons, an average of 29 wins a season. Summitt is the only college basketball coach, men’s or women’s, with more than 1,000 wins. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski currently has 927.
She also won eight women’s national championships.
She is not only great, but class personified.
Back to that April day some 28 years ago.
My meeting with coach Summitt came in the small eastern Lancaster County community of Charlesboro. Yes, that’s the same place famous for its annual July 4th parade.
There was no parade that spring day 28 years ago, but it was a major occasion, especially at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Horton.
Their daughter, Karla, a star basketball player at Andrew Jackson High School, was making her college choice official and signed with the University of Tennessee.
Coach Summitt made the trip to bring Karla into the Lady Vols’ fold. A 6-2 star, Karla scored 1,567 points and hauled in more than 1,000 rebounds while playing for coaches Marti Tiller and Barbara Tyler. Among her many honors was the Class AA girls Player of the Year and the MVP in the annual North-South All-Star basketball game.
It was quite an occasion as family, friends and coaches filled the Horton’s home for the major moment.
NCAA regulations prevented Summitt from being in Karla’s signing photo.
When I approached Summitt about some comments, she had to walk a fine line to oblige my request.
NCAA regulations wouldn’t allow her to make comments about Karla to me at her home, but she kindly told me that if I left the Horton house and called her, she could give me any comments.
The Hortons had a relative who lived just up the road and I took a short ride to the house to use the phone to call on of the true legends of college basketball.
Summitt, by phone, told me she signed Karla because she liked her size and attitude.
“Karla’s a worker and a good team player,” Summitt said. “As soon as I saw her play, I knew I wanted her to come with us.”
Karla noted a key reason she wanted to play at UT was coach Summitt and the fact “she has shown a great deal of confidence in me.”
When I recall that memorable afternoon, I think of coach Summitt as a person who fulfilled her obligations as a coach, but did so within the rules and in a unique way to help me get the story. I don’t know of another signing, and I’ve handled my share over nearly 35 years as sports editor, that went this way.
Summitt’s visit did pay off in a big way as Karla and her UT teammates captured the first NCAA national crown for the legendary coach. Horton hit nine points and grabbed five rebounds to help the Lady Vols roll to a
67-44 win over Louisiana Tech to cap the 1986-87 season.
Those numbers are impressive, but one that truly underscores Summitt is that every player who has completed her NCAA eligibility under her has earned a bachelor’s degree.
Tremendous success on and off the court. No other way to say it, but