Pat Summitt coaching the US women’s basketball team at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984 in Los Angeles.
Trish Roberts first met Summitt when both were players trying out for the 1976 US Olympic Team. At 24 years old, Summitt was the veteran on Team USA — and already two years into her coaching career at Tennessee.
“I didn’t know she was a Division I head coach,” Roberts said. “I just thought she was a regular player. After we both made the team, she was one of the captains. So, she’s always had that leadership role.
“She just kind of took me under her wing. It was my first time playing international basketball. She was always next to me on the bench, whenever we traveled, always in my ear. We just became friends.”
As the Games ended, Roberts told one of their US teammates that she didn’t want to return to playing at Emporia State in Kansas. She wanted to play somewhere closer to her home state of Georgia.
“The word must have gotten back to Pat,” Roberts said. “I just remember us being on a bus, and she came over and sat near me. She said, ‘I hear you want to transfer.’”
Summitt suggested she come to Tennessee. Sure enough, on the cover of the Lady Vols 1976-77 media guide, there was Roberts kneeling, with Summitt standing behind her former Olympic teammate, resting her right hand on her shoulder.
The transition from teammates to coach and player went smoothly, Roberts said.
“We talked about that,” Roberts said. “Once I transferred, she had called me in the office and sat down. She said, ‘Trish, you know our roles have changed. We’re no longer teammates.’ She said, ‘I’m the head coach.’”
Roberts, who was a senior, told Summitt she had no problem with that. She was there to play basketball and earn her degree.
“That was the end of that conversation,” Roberts said. “She treated me just like she treated all the other players. But I felt like if there was a problem or anything, I always felt comfortable going in her office and talking to her about it because of our previous relationship. It worked out fine.”
That’s an understatement. In that one season in Knoxville, Roberts averaged 29.9 points and 14.2 rebounds per game for Summitt. After all these years and great players at the school, her name remains prominent in the Tennessee record book. Many credit that 1976-77 team with propelling Tennessee into the national spotlight.
“I must have been playing out of my head,” Roberts said. “I always was good, but I never played that great. I felt like I could do anything when I played at Tennessee.
“It seemed like she got more out of me than any other coach. I mean, she really pushed me hard. She really pushed me to be better and encouraged me to be better than what I was. I was good, but she pushed me to be better.
“A lot of people say she’d break you down to build you up, but I don’t think she did. I just thought she told you the truth and helped you to see and made you a better player by correcting all of your bad habits.”
After she played three years in the Women’s Professional Basketball League, Roberts entered the college coaching ranks.
“I took a lot from her,” Roberts said of Summitt. “I tried to emulate her. I tried to coach my teams the way I was coached.
“To be as young as she was, she imparted a lot of wisdom in her coaches. And you could always tell when a player that played for Pat and later went on to coach. You always saw some of her traits in her lineage or her tree. They would always emulate Pat.”