As Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt exited the court on Monday night after her Lady Vols lost to Baylor in the women’s NCAA tournament, no one was sure if her steely blue eyes and high expectations would return to the sideline to coach next year.
Last August, Summitt, 59, revealed she was facing her toughest opponent yet: early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type — a condition for which there is no cure.
Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball history, leading the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols to more victories than any college coach for any basketball team, men’s or women’s, has not announced her plans for next season.
“Maybe I’ll wake up one morning and say, ‘I’m done, let’s go to the beach,’” Summitt told ABC News in November. “Or I could coach until they told me they had to pull the plug on me. That might happen too.”
ABC News Anchor Robin Roberts, who is Summitt’s friend, says she believes it comes down to teaching.
“I think that if she feels that she doesn’t have anything more to teach us, then she’ll go to the beach. But if she believes she has something left to teach, she’s a teacher,” Roberts said.
Summitt’s success is measured not only by her victories on the court, but by a generation of competitors who learned from her that champions don’t always win, but they always fight.
“She makes you know that you are strong enough to get back up. She makes you believe that,” Roberts said. “When I had cancer, she was coaching me. She was finding people, she was willing me to be well and she does that with everyone. … You realize that there is something about her that makes you better.”
According to Roberts, Summitt wants her legacy to inspire the future.
“Every generation wants more for the next generation and that’s what Pat wants and that’s what this generation of women like Pat want for the next,” she said. “Want it as much as we have wanted it. Want it more, want it more.”