When she wasn't tending to crops or milking cows on her family farm in Clarksville, Tennessee, Patricia Sue Head was honing her basketball skills by trading elbows with her three older brothers on the makeshift court her father constructed in a hayloft. When it came to basketball, she was primarily self-taught; there were no female coaching networks to connect her to notable peers such as Jody Conradt at the University of Texas or Billie Moore at UCLA (and earlier Cal State Fullerton).
Head (later Summitt, after her marriage in 1980) was just 22 years old when she accepted the head-coaching job at the University of Tennessee in 1974. The job, which paid $250 a month, also entailed driving the team van and washing her players' uniforms. At Tennessee, she accomplished the unthinkable: transforming a male-dominated Southern football school into a women's basketball powerhouse. The success of the Lady Vols was unprecedented, with routine sellouts amid national fanfare. Summitt's iconic status prompted leaders from all walks of life to seek her counsel, from Air Force generals to championship football coaches. She won 1,098 games and eight championships, but like her trusted friend John Wooden, Summitt waited an excruciating 12 seasons before she raised her first championship trophy. From there, she emerged as the face of women's basketball, the most endearing and admired figure in the game.
Sally Jenkins (coauthor, "Sum It Up"; columnist, Washington Post): Normally, transformational figures in sports tend to be athletes -- like Billie Jean King or Muhammad Ali. Oddly, the single most dynamic figure in women's basketball for 30 years was a coach.
Tamika Catchings (small forward, University of Tennessee Lady Vols; 2011 WNBA MVP): Those two sides of Pat weren't an act. She was the most genuine and authentic person there was.
Kara Lawson (guard, University of Tennessee Lady Vols; 2007 WNBA All-Star): The SEC and Tennessee love women's basketball because of Pat Summitt. She changed an entire region of the country.
Michelle Marciniak: (point guard, University of Tennessee Lady Vols; 1996 NCAA champion): There was always this little part of you that thinks, "Maybe she won't yell at me. Maybe if I work really hard ..." But then you mess up, and you get The Stare.
Catchings: The Stare is so much worse than actually getting yelled at.
Luigi "Geno" Auriemma immigrated to Norristown, Pennsylvania, from Montella, Italy, when he was 6 years old, perfecting his English by reading the back of cereal boxes. He was a backup point guard for his high school basketball team, in part because he wasn't diligent enough about working on his game, a shortcoming Auriemma later shared with his Connecticut players when they asked why he drove them so hard.
When he took the UConn job in 1985, the basketball court was located in the middle of a track in the field house frequented by students, faculty members and hurdlers. When they weren't dodging track athletes, the players maneuvered around buckets carefully placed by assistant coach Chris Dailey to mark the puddles from a leaky roof.
Connecticut's record in the three seasons before Auriemma arrived was an aggregate 27-56, including a woeful 4-28 in the Big East. Within six seasons, Auriemma led the Huskies to the Final Four.
Cathy Rush: I was running a girls' basketball camp in the Poconos. My camp director, Phil Martelli, had a friend named Geno Auriemma. We're in the office, and Virginia coach Debbie Ryan calls Phil and says, "I have this assistant's position. It's going to pay $10,000 to coach the women." Phil says, "I really want to coach men." In that instant, Geno walks in. He's in short shorts, an Italian T-shirt, high socks with three stripes. He had been teaching basketball outside all summer. He's got these beautiful blue eyes and this brown hair that's getting a little bit of blond streaks in it, and Phil, in typical Philadelphia fashion, goes, "Yo, Geno, you wanna coach at the University of Virginia?" And Geno says, "I don't know. Let me call [my wife] Kathy." He ends up going to Virginia for $10,000. And, as they say, the rest is history.
Rebecca Lobo: It's very difficult to play for him early on, when you don't understand yet why he is constantly yelling at you. Nothing you can do is good enough. He doesn't let anything slip, especially if you're a player he thinks can be special.
Diana Taurasi: We can go 22-0, and you don't feel good. We watch film, we've just beaten Virginia Tech by 40, and it's, "You missed that block-out." Or "Diana, you can't keep anyone in front of you." I'm like, "C'mon, it's just one play." But to Coach, one play is everything.
Cheryl Miller: You got two great coaches who, depending on which way the wind was blowing, liked each other, didn't like each other.
Geno Auriemma: We knew how good Tennessee was, we knew how good a coach Pat was, and that's why beating them felt so good, because you weren't just beating anybody. That's why losing to them hurt so badly, because you knew that was the one game you were gonna be measured by.
Taurasi: It probably got a little bit uglier than Pat wanted. She never was much of a confrontational person. Coach Auriemma was the new kid on the block. He wanted to carve out a piece of history for himself, and like a young player or a young coach, you have this inner anger and you wanna get things done, and sometimes you act in a way that you shouldn't.
Jenkins: I remember asking Pat in 1996, "Do you like the UConn coach?" She said, "I do. He's funny, he likes a cocktail, he's engaging. And he's a very good coach. But we are very different.'"
Excerpt from "Basketball: A Love Story" by Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew, and Dan Klores. Copyright © 2018 by My Three Sons Production Inc. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of Penguin Random House.