On Sunday, the sports world woke up to the awful news that the health of legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt had become dire and that her family was “preparing for the worst.” The news came five years after Summitt announced she had early onset Alzheimer’s disease and a few months after she had been placed in a retirement center.
Since then, support for the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history has poured in, including a message from the biggest rival of her career, UConn’s Geno Auriemma.
Auriemma spoke to the AP Sunday on while attending a game between the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s sad to see her family go through this,” Auriemma said. “It’s really difficult. She was the one that everyone tried to emulate. That was the program everyone tried to be.”
Auriemma then reflected back to a 1995 meeting between UConn and Tennessee, one that is considered one of the most important games in the history of women’s basketball.
“I don’t think anyone was surprised she wanted to play in that game,” Auriemma said. “That’s what she did. We try to do that. Play everybody any time, anywhere. That’s how she built her program to where it is.”
Rebecca Lobo, who was the star of the UConn women’s team the year that historic game took place also weighed in. She was in New York broadcasting the WNBA game.
“She’s meant so much to the game and the sport. I’ve always had wonderful interactions with her when I was a broadcaster,” Lobo said. “I was completely unaware until I saw the stuff this morning. It made me really sad.”
Then, of course, there were the players who came after Lobo and that famed 1995 game. Many of them wouldn’t have had the opportunities they do now without that game and Summitt’s involvement specifically. That includes arguably the greatest woman to ever play the game, Mercury guard and UConn alum Diana Taurasi.
“You can’t say enough about her,” Taurasi said following the game. “If it wasn’t for her, we probably wouldn’t be playing in Madison Square Garden. Connecticut never would have been Connecticut. She made people take notice of the sport at a time when it probably wasn’t easy. She forced the hand. She was the one.
Others from across the world of women’s basketball and the broader sports world weighed-in across Twitter as well, starting with Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw: