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Tennessee's Summitt goes for win No. 800
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Pat Summitt began her coaching career in 1974 with a loss and a handful of dirty uniforms.
Now in her 29th season, the Hall of Famer's record stands at 799-161, and she could become the first women's college basketball coach to win 800 games when the fifth-ranked Lady Vols host DePaul today.
She would be only the fourth Division I men's or women's coach to reach 800.
"I think when you see a number like that you stop and think and reflect on the players and the teams and the competitors and what happened to allow us to be so successful," Summitt said Monday.
"It started with the administration and then the coaching staff being able to assemble some real talented players. We went from an all-Tennessee team to recruiting nationally."
Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith leads the list with 879 wins, followed by Adolph Rupp's 876 wins at Kentucky. Jim Phelan has 824 at Mount Saint Mary's.
Right behind Summitt are Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight and Jody Conradt, the women's coach at Texas, with 797 apiece.
In Division II, Clarence Gaines of Winston-Salem had 828 wins, and Jerry Johnson at LeMoyne-Owen in Memphis is up to 805 pending Monday night's game.
The Lady Vols (11-3) overcame a 14-point deficit on Sunday to beat Auburn 81-72 and set up Summitt's milestone win in the upcoming home game.
"I think it's going to be a special moment not only for her but for us as players too because it's not very often that we get to celebrate coach Summitt," Tennessee senior guard Kara Lawson said after the last game.
"I think our team is excited to be a part of history. The thing to stress is that we're just a part. There's been a lot of players and a lot coaches and people that have gone into 800 wins."
Summitt was hired at age 22 as a graduate teaching assistant to coach the women's team. In those days, women's basketball wasn't much more than an afterthought.
In fact, Summitt had to wash her team's uniforms and other chores head coaches now delegate to managers.
"I might be one of just a couple coaches who had to drive the van," she said.
The Lady Vols lost 84-83 to Mercer on Dec. 7, 1974, in her first game. They responded 24 days later with a 69-32 victory in the next game against Middle Tennessee State as 53 fans watched in the stands. Tennessee finished 16-8 in Summitt's first season.
Summitt, 50, has since become one of the most successful college coaches ever with six national titles, second only to UCLA legendary coach John Wooden's 10.
She has already been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The success has attracted thousands of fans. Home games are averaging more than 12,000 fans this season.
"I guess it's hard for me to put myself in the same league with a Dean Smith or Adolph Rupp, but I think it just speaks to the University of Tennessee's commitment. I'll always be indebted to Tennessee for giving me a chance at age 22," she said. "That wouldn't happen today."
Summitt isn't sure how many more coaches will make it to 800 since most coaching careers now don't start as early as hers did.
"With coaches, even hired at the age of 30, it's a matter of staying in the game longer. You may not see as many with 700, 800 or 900 wins anymore," she said. "Some people call those of us with that many wins pioneers, but I prefer to be called a veteran coach."