Since her passing last week, tributes from throughout the nation have been paid to Pat Summitt, the legendary former Tennessee Women’s Basketball Coach
Summitt served as the head coach of the Lady Vols from 1974 to 2012, before retiring at age 59 because of a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. She died last Tuesday at the age of 64.
During her years at Tennessee, Coach Summitt won 1,098 games, the most in Division I history, and eight national titles with the Lady Vols.
Mary Ann Puckett, a DCHS basketball star from 1989-93, has her own special remembrances of Coach Summitt.
Because of her success on the court at DCHS and in AAU basketball, Puckett was sought after by several coaches from various colleges and universities during her high school years, including Coach Summitt who came to see Puckett for an in home visit during the fall of 1992. Though it was not her first encounter with the legendary coach, having previously seen her during AAU tournaments, Puckett told WJLE that the moment was still quite special.
“I got to meet her in my living room. That was pretty surreal and very special. That was a really cool time in my life and I remembered that when she passed away last week. It was during the fall of my junior year. When college coaches who were recruiting me were taking home visits we would schedule them to come in and actually visit with my family and for us get to know a little bit more about their programs. My mom would fix food for the coaches when they would come. It wouldn’t always be a full meal. We would usually have some fresh fried okra that she (mom) would put up from the summer. She (mom) would fry them some okra and give them some cornbread or something just to be a good host. I took in eleven home visits that year which was kind of unheard of. I just had a hard time saying no to the coaches who wanted to visit. Most people (athletes) would take in their top three or four people (coaches) for a home visit but I took in eleven. I don’t remember them all now but I know I had Duke, Wake Forest, Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee, and several small schools come in. But to have Pat Summitt knock on the door of your house is a pretty cool thing. She was definitely the highest profile coach I had come in and her assistant Mickie DeMoss came with her. She was sitting in the living room visiting with us. My mom remembers her talking about when Tyler (Summitt’s son) was born. He was two years old at the time. She (mom) remembers her (Summitt) saying that she had gotten soft since she had her son. But I’m not sure she was ever really soft. If she was that was really a relative term,” Puckett told WJLE.
“She (Coach Summitt) came in that evening and talked about how she only recruited two people for each position that she needed to fill. I knew she had a post position open that year and I think she had two guard positions open. She had two people she wanted to fill those spots and she would make an offer to her first choice and if her first choice didn’t take it, her second choice would. At that time I was second choice to Abby Conklin from Indiana. She (Summitt) had not yet heard from Abby as far as a firm commitment. She (Summitt) told me if she (Conklin) didn’t accept the position she would like for me to accept it. I told her I was honored to be her second choice. I didn’t tell her at that point that I was leaning toward Duke but I already was before the home visits even started. While I didn’t get a formal offer from Coach Summitt, it was enough for her to come and visit to say that I was second in line. But Abby (Conklin) did take the position that year and during the time, had I been there (Tennessee), had I been a player on her team, I would have been on a team that went on to win two or three national championships,” said Puckett.
Having played in AAU tournaments, Puckett said she got the attention of several colleges during that time including Tennessee.“ I was getting recruiting letters from Tennessee probably beginning in eighth grade, a product of playing on an AAU team that was nationally successful. We always went to the nationals and the lowest we finished was in fifth place in the nation. That’s how you got exposure was to be on a successful team. AAU Nationals was what sent me to college with a basketball scholarship,” said Puckett.
It was during her AAU playing days that she first met Coach Summitt. “I had known her off and on through seeing her at AAU tournaments and she was friends with my AAU coach Lynn Burkey, who was the coach of the girls team at Oak Ridge. I was playing for Coach Burkey who was friends with Pat Summit and she would be around our tournaments saying hello to us. For one or two summers I played basketball with her (Summitt’s) niece Tracey Head and Pat would come and watch us play at the tournaments and visit with us a little bit there,” she said.
Although she went on to play for Duke, Puckett said she highly respected Coach Summitt and was honored by her in home visit. “She was the quintessential womens basketball coach. She had a lot to do with putting womens basketball on the map. Coach Summitt inspired so many young girls. She seemed down to earth. She was a real hard working woman and commanded a natural respect from everybody around her yet she was so personable, friendly, and available to everybody,” Puckett concluded.