The NCAA’s winningest basketball coach opens up about private and public contests that have defined her.
While the title of Summitt’s latest work (Reach for the Summit, 1998, etc.) is a reflection of her long career as head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols—eight national championships and 1,098 victories—the substance of this engaging memoir offers an unvarnished look at defining moments behind those incomparable achievements. In 2011, the basketball world was shocked when Summitt, one of the best strategic minds ever to grace the hardwood, revealed she had been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The author tackles the elephant in the room by introducing each historically gauged chapter with snapshots of conversations, between Summitt and co-author Jenkins (co-author: In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving, 2010, etc.), focused squarely on the coach’s relation to her illness. Though hardly one to wallow, when asked if she would trade her championships to have her health restored, Summitt admits, “I would give back every one of my trophies to still be coaching.” The bulk of the memoir demonstrates why, with detailed recollections plumbing the depths of Summitt’s investment in psychological tactics used to help players reach their potential and strategies executed in key games. The author is also quick to show her human side, exploring the drive her rural upbringing and tough-love father instilled in her, the pride she feels over having raised a son, her regret over the breakup of her marriage, her struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and her sense of accomplishment over the 100 percent graduation rate of her players. Frank on sensitive subjects like the inequities women athletes have had to face, Summitt also includes many humorous and touching anecdotes involving some of the biggest names in the women’s game.
The master of emotional jousting on the court speaks candidly of life challenges off of it—a must-read for basketball junkies, sport fans and any whose lives have been touched by incurable illness.