The year was 1988, and a former University of Arkansas–Little Rock women’s basketball player had just started as the women’s basketball coach at Vilonia High School in Arkansas.
At the time, the coach didn’t have many female coaches to admire. So she looked up to John Wooden and Bobby Knight.
But then, Pat Summitt, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, began winning National Championships in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. Summitt became the winningest coach in the history of Division I college basketball. She won eight national titles, was awarded Coach of the Year seven times and was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of fame in 2000.
Summitt died early Tuesday, five years after being diagnosed with early onset dementia in the form of Alzheimer’s. She was 64.
Summitt’s impact transcended genders and crossed borders, impacting athletes, coaches and fans, not only in Tennessee, but across the entire United States. She impacted that then-new women’s basketball coach at Vilonia — Karen Aston.
The current Texas women’s basketball head coach spoke on Tuesday about the impact Summitt had on her.
“For me, as a young high school coach, it was somebody for me to model,” Aston said. “Someone I looked up to and wanted to be like. Therefore, you want to pick her brain. You want to go follow her around and see how she does things.”
Summitt and Texas battled off the court as much as they did on it, often going after the same recruits.
“If you didn’t get them,” Aston said, “they probably went to Tennessee.”
Aston said it's not just a sad day for the basketball community.
“It’s a really sad day for sports in general. “Aston said. “We just lost a tremendous role model, a tremendous icon — not just for women’s basketball, but also for women’s sports.”