Looking at Leaving a Legacy

Hall of Fame Tennessee women’s basketball Head Coach Pat Summitt lost her battle with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, last week. Summitt was 64. She won an NCAA Division I record 1,098 games and eight national championships with the Lady Vols. One of those wins came on November 12, 2010, a 63-50 win over UofL in the first game ever played in the KFC Yum! Center. Cards Head Coach Jeff Walz reflected on Summitt’s career and impact on the game and on his own team’s prospects for the 2016-17 season.

How do you put into perspective what Pat Summitt meant to women’s basketball?
Pat, she got everything going. She did it because she loved the game. I was fortunate to be able to sit down with her on some recruiting trips when we were out watching kids play, and talking to her – you could just tell she was invested in her program. When you start off and you’re making around $8,000 a year, you aren’t doing it for the money – you’re doing it because you love the game. She kept pushing it and pushing it and just striving to be great, and she built herself a dynasty. What she was able to do was build a culture where excellence was expected, and when you can get to that point where your players are the ones who are continuing to teach the next group that comes in, you’ve got yourself a winning program.

What did it mean for you to get Summitt and Tennessee in here for the first game in the KFC Yum! Center?
When we found out that we were going to have the opportunity to open up and play the first game, we wanted to go out and find a marquee program. Tennessee was it. We called up Pat, Pat agreed to do it and then we were able to fill this place at 22,000. I still think today that we probably picked up 2,000 or 3,000 season ticket holders just from that one game.

Tennessee played in Thompson-Boling Arena for a long time, and UofL at one time played in Cardinal Arena. How much did what they did make it possible for this program to play every home game in an arena like the KFC Yum! Center?
There’s no question about it. We were in Freedom Hall doing well, and then to come down to the arena downtown and have Pat agree to come up and play – it spoke volumes for our program to where we were. We had to do our job of putting a product out there that people would want to come back and see.

People often compare her to John Wooden. Is she without question one of the top coaches, no matter the sport?
For what she was able to accomplish, for the length of time – she put a program together that continued to strive for excellence and did, and that’s hard to do. You’re really out there on the grind day in and day out to just get a team that can compete one year, and she was doing it for 30. There is no question that of all the coaches out there, she is one of the best of all sports.

Could you be a Pat Summitt here?
That’s my goal. I keep telling everybody that my goal is either retire here or get fired here, and I hope it’s the first.

What have you seen from your current team this summer?
Really excited about this group. Our incoming freshmen have been doing extremely well at their workouts. We’re allowed two hours a week, and they’ve really been excelling. Proud of where they are. Our returning players have done a great job of teaching them. Our struggles we had early in the year last year I think will come back to help us now because our returning players know what we did not do last summer, and now we’re not going to make that same mistake twice.

Did Myisha Hines-Allen get a burst of confidence from the success that she had last season?
She does, and at the same time, we’re trying to continually get her to understand that she has more in her. We’re trying to push her to get through that glass ceiling. She is right at the top and is a really special player, obviously, but she has a lot more in her that we’re trying to realize. When we can get through that, there is no doubt in my mind that she can be a first team All-American for us.

Asia Durr came in with so much hype and battled so many injuries last season. Are you seeing more of what you expected from her?
I’m expecting it, yes. She says she feels much better. She is moving better. She had flashes of brilliance last year, but it was just that. She was sore and injured, and we had to get through a lot of hurdles to get her to be able to play – but it was something that she wanted to do. We wouldn’t have put her out there if there were any chance of her getting injured further, but now, she’s feeling great and we’re excited about her sophomore year.

Can big freshmen come in and make an impact?
I think they can. We’re excited about what they’re able to do. They’re both skilled. Ciera and Kylee come in from having played in high school programs that were successful. Especially Ciera. Ciera comes in having played at a high school program having won what they call the National Championship. I think they went 33-0, and she had other great players to play with. Her high school coach has done a great job down there at Duncanville to get those players prepared to be able to come in as freshmen and compete.

Does Breanna Stewart leaving UConn feel like it evens the playing field a little?
It’s nice. She is a special player. Not just a great player but a special person. I had the opportunity to be out there at USA basketball coaching when she was competing on different teams. It’s the way she goes about it. She just goes out and competes and plays 100 percent knowing that she’s the best player out there, but that’s not how she acts. I’m excited that she’s now moved on, and I’m sure there are a lot of coaches that are, except for one. VT