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MSU Lady Bears Coach Kellie Harper Remembers her Former Coach Pat Summitt

Wade Payne
Associated Press

The world lost a staunch advocate for women’s sports with the passing this week of former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach, Pat Summitt.  KSMU's Michele Skalicky talked with a former player about Coach Summitt.

Summitt had been battling Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years after being diagnosed at age 59.

Missouri State University head Lady Bears Basketball coach, Kellie Harper, played for Summitt in the 1990s as a student at the University of Tennessee.

She remembers how hard Summitt worked her players, and it paid off.

"She was very demanding.  That's an understatement, to be quite honest.  But, you know, I think we all understood that the benefits were championships, and we were all very competitive and were willing to work that hard for someone pushing us," said Harper.

And Summitt didn’t just care about how well her team members played the sport, according to Harper.  She said Summitt pushed her players to excel both on and off the court.

"She always wanted us to be the best.  She wanted us to do well in the classroom, she wanted us to be great citizens, and, you know, we had wonderful relationships with her when we graduated."

In fact, Harper kept in touch with Summitt over the years.  She was able to take her son to meet Coach Summitt a couple of years ago.

"And that was really important to me--to be able to share him with her and to share her with him," she said.

Harper said her former coach influenced her own coaching style in “numerous” ways.  One thing she knew she wanted to emulate:  the way in which Summitt ran “a very classy program.”

"Everything was always done the right way, and it looked the part in every aspect." she said.

Another was how, as a coach on the court, Summitt was always poised and confident, and that transferred to her players.  Harper said, “we were always a very confident group.”

"There was an air about our team when we walked in the gym, and there's no doubt we got that from her," Harper said.

She wasn’t surprised when Summitt decided to be very open about her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  According to Harper, Summitt always understood that she was a public figure “who has a voice, and she did not take that lightly.”

"Pat was very--she fought for a lot of causes, most of those being athletics and women and gave me basically the opportunities that I had because she laid the foundation," she said.

Harper said it was a natural progression when Summitt decided to be open about her battle with Alzheimer’s.