NIU hosts legend, 1991 champs

By Todd McMahon

College basketball has had great innovators throughout its history: Dr. James Naismith, Adolph Rupp, Henry Iba, John Wooden, Ray Meyer and even Bobby Knight.

But as far as women’s basketball, not one coach would argue as to who is the “legend” of its coaching ranks. Her name, of course, is Pat Head Summitt.

And come Friday night, NIU and its supporters will discover firsthand what makes the University of Tennessee head coach the most respected person in women’s basketball. What will make this game even more special is the bond between Summitt and Huskie head coach Jane Albright-Dieterle.

For two seasons (1981-83), Albright-Dieterle served as a graduate assistant under Summitt. In those two seasons, the Volunteers compiled a 47-18 record and reached the NCAA’s first-ever Final Four in 1982.

It was at Knoxville where Albright-Dieterle learned the “total picture.” “I coached for four years at the high school level (Spartanburg, S.C.), but I really only knew the fundamentals of the game,” she said.

“Jane had a lot of strong qualities when she was here,” Summitt said. “She has such a strong work ethic, and she surrounds herself with good people.”

Of the many facets of the game Albright-Dieterle learned from Summitt, the Huskie coach said, “I probably learned her defensive system the most.”

And it’s been that defense that has made Tennessee the “champion” of women’s basketball. Over Summitt’s 18 years as the Volunteer’s leading lady, she has compiled a staggering .791 winning percentage (453-120).

Fifteen consecutive seasons the Volunteers have won at least 20 games. In five of those, they won at least 30.

But what makes Summitt compared so many times to Wooden is her success in the games that count the most. In the last five years, Tennessee has won three national titles (1987, 1989, 1991).

Overall, Summitt has taken her team to the Final Four 11 times, including five of the last six years. Only the “Wizard of Westwood” took his UCLA teams to more Final Fours (12).

In addition to producing championship contenders year-in and year-out, Summitt coached the United States Olympic team to its first gold medal in 1984.

And as far as her players at Tennessee, she has produced seven Olympians, 13 All-Americans and 26 players who have played on international teams.

Now, Summitt brings her fourth-ranked Volunteers into Chick Evans Field House for the long-awaited encounter with friend Albright-Dieterle and her Huskies.

“They’ve got the best coach in the nation … but we’re not in awe of them,” Albright-Dieterle said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for them. What would you do if Bobby Knight was coming in or John Wooden?

“But after that, when the ball goes up … Pat beat me in racquetball one time 21-0 and didn’t have a lick of sympathy for me. She’s just a competitive lady.”

And how special is this game for Summitt? “Jane is a special friend, but the game is another challenge for us,” she said. “We have to be ready to play. It’s always hard to play against friends.”