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George Solomon

Summitt Reaches the Top, and Keeps Climbing

By George Solomon
Sunday, March 27, 2005; Page E02

Let's get right to the point. Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who on Tuesday broke retired North Carolina coach Dean Smith's record for college basketball victories with her 880th win, said in a telephone interview Thursday night she has no interest in applying for the vacant job as coach of Tennessee's men's team.

"The job I have now is my passion," Summitt said. "My goal has always been to make a difference for women. I can do that as the coach of the women's basketball team. That's what I care most about."

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt, right, reacts as university president John Petersen unveils a rendering of the Thompson-Boling Arena floor, which will be named "The Summitt." (Susan Walsh -- AP)

Summitt, 52, goes into today's Philadelphia Region semifinal with a record of 880-171, with six NCAA titles, 15 Final Four appearances and 87 NCAA tournament wins in 31 years, with a 28-4 record this season. Smith was 879-254 with the Tar Heels when he retired after 36 years in 1997, and now both of their names will be associated with their schools' on-campus arenas.

"I'm happy the record is behind us," said Summitt, who remains a consultant with the WNBA's Washington Mystics "because I enjoy working with Susan" O'Malley, who runs the team.

"Pat Summitt is the greatest women's basketball coach ever," said Gary Williams, coach of the Maryland men's team. "She's the consummate coach," added Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow.

"She accomplished this record in one of the toughest leagues [Southeastern Conference]," said GW women's coach Joe McKeown, adding: "I did my part [0 for 6] in her getting the record. She gets everyone's best shot, because when you play Tennessee that's your big game of the year. But she continues to win with class and has been such a pioneer and role model for coaches.''

McKeown, whose Colonials (23-9) reached the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to UNC on Tuesday night, said Summitt "has always been willing to stand up for women's basketball, fighting uphill battles, and gaining respect for herself, her team and the game."

These uphill battles persist, as last weekend's NCAA first-round games at Maryland's Comcast Center showed, with doubleheaders Sunday (4,062) and Tuesday night (4,483) drawing far less than the 12,000 fans the well-supported Terps men have been averaging for two NIT home games. "We can always do better," said Yow, adding the attendance for two days at Maryland doubled the turnout in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Still, some talking heads and fans of men's basketball not only avoid the women's game but become hostile in discussions. "The players are wonderful athletes," observed Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach. "It's an okay game, but I'm not a fan. At my age [86], it's too late to pick up something new."

ISO Nats Ticket

Over the past 18 months, this space has become sort of a nesting ground for wayward baseball fans unhappy and perplexed that Washington had been without its own major league ballclub for 33 seasons. The landscape changed, of course, on Sept. 29 when MLB relocated the Montreal Expos to Washington, and fans held their breath while the D.C. Council did its December dance of doom before finally agreeing to build a new stadium along the Anacostia River.

Now we're a week from an April 3 noon exhibition game between the Nationals and New York Mets at RFK Stadium and eight days from Washington playing its first regular season game, April 4, in Philadelphia, and who knows how long before an owner is chosen and the Nats get a local TV deal. But baseball fans have a lot on their minds and know where to go.

Such as: Washington filmmaker Aviva Kempner, whose wonderful documentary on the late Hank Greenberg several years ago won her numerous awards, who spent much of the past three decades relentlessly yakking in the ears of MLB owners and officials on behalf of Washington getting a team. Like many fans, Kempner does not have season tickets, and like others, put her name in the lottery for tickets to the April 14 opener at RFK. She came up empty. The woman needs a ticket, one ticket, anywhere in the stadium, at face value. If you've got one to sell, e-mail me (address below) and we'll hook up Aviva (how low can I sink in my semi-retirement?).

Of course, Joe Fries, whom I interviewed with his two friends in the upper deck at RFK Stadium at the Senators' final game in 1971, will be flying in from Hollywood, where he's a big deal, for the first weekend of baseball at RFK. Joe was a young man in 1971; he isn't anymore. Neither am I, filling out Medicare application forms and preparing for my RFK reunion, April 16, with Joe at the seats where we last talked.

And then there's Bethesda's Charlie Sparacino, who sat in section 520, row 1, seat 9, that gloomy September night in 1971 and writes that he has "the same seats" next Sunday, adding, "ain't that great."

Short Hops

• I miss the NHL, which used to play hockey but now is just an agent for cancellations, its latest being the June entry draft. Hello. Anyone at the National Labor Relations Board paying attention?

• How 'bout the Redskins' capable play-by-play voice, Larry Michael, leaving his position as senior VP for Westwood One radio network to work for the Redskins as the executive producer for all broadcast properties while retaining ties with WJFK-FM? I question how Michael, who replaced Frank Herzog last season, can be objective in his call of the games while being employed by the team. "I'm still responsible to the radio station and the fans to do an accurate job," Michael explained. He also told me other NFL teams and some baseball clubs have similar arrangements, but I'm not buying.

What's next, Sonny Jurgensen becoming the Redskins' GM and Sam Huff taking over as linebackers coach? Well, let me think about that.

• After losing to DeMatha (29-2) in the regular season and in the WCAC final, O'Connell (31-3) got sweet revenge last weekend winning the Alhambra Basketball Tournament championship in Cumberland, Md., for the third straight year with a 54-47 victory over the Stags. "Very satisfying" is how O'Connell Coach Joe Wootten described the victory, giving credit to seniors David Neal, Marcus Ginyard and Bryant Majors. Wootten can keep the championship trophy (you have to win three straight to do that), aware his father, Morgan, has several from his days at DeMatha.

• Potomac (Md.) boys, 27-0, finished No. 1 in Post rankings, to go with the football team's 14-0 record and 2A state title, and the girls won state as well.

Have a comment or question, reach me at Talkback@washpost.com; hoping for an e-mail from someone willing to sell/give Aviva Kempner a ticket to the Nats opener.

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