Alexander: The Best Wanted to Play for Pat Summitt Because She Was the Best

Posted on June 29, 2016

***Click HERE for video of the senator’s remarks***     

“We honor her life. We honor that she lived that life by the book, that she taught so many young women how to live their lives by the book, that she brought out the best in so many of them and inspired the rest of us to think a little bigger for ourselves as well.” 

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“Tennesseans are very, very proud of Pat Summitt. We know that when the nation saw her, they might think a little better of us because she was one of us. She was a great friend, not just a friend of mine and our family, but of thousands of Tennesseans.”

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2016 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), today paid tribute on the Senate floor to legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who passed away Tuesday.

Alexander’s floor remarks follow:

Senator Corker and I have come to the floor to introduce a resolution honoring the life and achievements of Pat Summitt, the former University of Tennessee basketball coach who died this week. She coached for 38 years and became the winningest basketball coach, man or woman, in Division I history.

I had the privilege of going to the White House with Coach Summitt in April of 1989. I was president of the University of Tennessee at the time. She had just won the national championship. 

President Bush, the first President Bush, recited the usual statistics about Pat Summitt's remarkable coaching career. 

The president said in 13 years, she brought Tennessee to the final four 10 times—this was in 1989 long before she retired—winning it twice. 

“Later on we're going down to the fountain to see if she literally could walk on water.” That is what President Bush said of Pat Summitt. 

So when it came time for Coach Summitt to speak, this is what she said, the winningest basketball coach in our country's Division I history. 

She said, “Mr. President, we're honored and delighted to be here. I was extremely proud of our academic success. We have won two national championships in the last three years. But, the most important statistic for our team and our program is the 100 percent graduation rate of which we will hold our heads very proudly.”

Pat Summitt did everything by the book, and she made sure her players did as well. 

She had some of the most remarkable athletes in any program in the country.

One of those was Candace Parker, who is still playing in professional women’s basketball. Candace, if I remember this right, there was finally a game when she got to play near her hometown in a Midwestern city, and so the whole town turned out – all of her friends, all of her family, everybody came to see a young woman who was then the most celebrated women's basketball player in the country. 

But Candace Parker had missed a curfew the night before by a few minutes, and so Pat Summitt sat her on the bench for the first half while her family, her friends and everybody who had come to see her play watched. 

Everyone understood that's how Pat Summitt did things. 

She began her career when she was 22. She was paid $250 a month for that. She was a graduate student at the University of Tennessee. 

For many, women's basketball consisted of three women on one end of the court and three on the other. The NCAA didn't even sponsor a national championship game at that time. But Pat invented really many aspects of the women's college game, and what she didn't invent, she taught to the rest of us. 

It will be hard for people outside Tennessee to appreciate how much she became a part of us. She literally taught us the game. She was so up-front and personal about it all. 

She introduced us to her players. She told us about their great abilities and successes. She told us about their failures and when they weren't living up to their potential. 

She invited us to go into her locker room at half-time and listen to her fiery half-time speeches. 

She made time for every single person who touched her. 

There are countless stories about that, but the best wanted to play for Pat Summitt because she was the best. 

Tamika Catchings, still playing and retiring this year, one of the great players in women's college basketball, was the women’s college basketball player of the year. She was in high school when Tennessee already had the best team and the best player, but Tamika wanted to go to Tennessee to play for Pat Summitt and to play with Holdsclaw because she wanted to be a part of the best team. 

Tennesseans are very, very proud of Pat Summitt. We know that when the nation saw her, they might think a little better of us because she was one of us. She was a great friend, not just a friend of mine and our family, but of thousands of Tennesseans. 

We honor her life. We honor that she lived that life by the book, that she taught so many young women how to live their lives by the book, that she brought out the best in so many of them and inspired the rest of us to think a little bigger for ourselves as well. 

Four years ago at a young age, 60 years of age, suddenly she had Alzheimer's disease. She confronted that just as well. And she set an example for the rest of us.

So for Pat Summitt, this is a day to honor a woman of style, a woman of substance, a farm girl who grew up to be the winningest college coach in the country and who by her example and by her life brought out the best in her players and set an example for the rest of us. 

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