9:34 PM EDT, April 22, 2012
Accomplishment has a way of running the full gamut of emtions.
It’s often the celebration that completes a personal battle.
Sometimes that celebration is joyous. Other times, it’s rather melancholy.
It ends a long, breathtaking wait to exhale, followed by a deep breath in anticipation of a new chapter that lies ahead. That comes with trading an acquired habit for something unknown.
And with every moment of accomplishment comes the moment of realization.
You can see it in the eyes.
It’s a glazed look — complete with a half-smile and distant stare — that comes with trying to remember everything you learned while anticipating how it’s all going to serve you in an uncharted future.
I saw that look twice on Thursday.
The first came when Hagerstown Community College point guard Tione Womack signed his letter of intent to play and continue his education at the University of Houston. The other came shortly after during a televised press conference where Pat Summitt ended her 38-year run as Tennessee’s women’s basketball coach.
The two cases were rather unrelated. One was a local athlete; the other involved a national figure.
One was male, the other was female.
One was just starting out; the other was reaching the end of a long journey.
Both still have so much left to do.
One was joyous; the other was melancholy.
Both were linked by three facts, including one of personal interest to me.
Each decision involved basketball. Each experienced “the look.” And finally, for me, I had the opportunity to interview each, both early in their careers.
For Womack, it’s been a wild ride that turned out far better than what could have been.
The Hawks’ guard lost valuable playing time because he didn’t embrace his study time. Failing academics forced him to the sidelines.
“Last year, when they told me I couldn’t play ball for the rest of the season, that turned my life around,” Womack said. “It was a matter of maturing and realizing that you can’t take any days off.”
The experience changed Womack. He could have quit school, but he battled back.
He returned this season more assertive and vocal. He became the leader at his ball-handling position the Hawks required to become successful. He was named the Maryland JuCo Conference tournament MVP and helped lead HCC to a second straight Region XX championship.
In the process, he caught the eye of Houston, which was in need of a slick point guard who could move the ball and play defense.
The whole whirlwind put Womack in the seat of honor, where he got “the look” after signing the recruitment documents.
“I’m just happy to have this blessing come my way,” Womack said. “Last year put a block on what I wanted to accomplish. All this would not have happened if I didn’t come (to HCC). It’s more than just basketball. You have to focus on the books at the end of the day.”
Summitt may not know it, but she is linked to HCC in a small way.
In September 1984, Summitt tried to anonymously slip into Martinsburg Field House to recruit the Bulldogs’ Vicky Bullett, now HCC’s new women’s basketball coach.
She didn’t succeed. But even back then, Summitt was a hot commodity.
She had just finished coaching the U.S. women’s basketball team to Olympic gold, a feat which gave women an identity in the sport. Summitt gladly accepted the role of pioneer and flag bearer for that cause.
“I think this past summer was great for the game,” Summitt told me while signing autographs, shaking hands and, oh yes, watching Bullett play. “The team got the gold medal, I didn’t. … I wasn’t in this for the recognition. I was in it to help women’s basketball.
“… Besides the gold medal, women’s basketball received a lot of good exposure for the game. I feel I should go out and finish my job. …”
And that, she has.
Summitt went on to coach Tennessee for 28 more years after our meeting and became the all-time winningest college coach of either gender with 1,098 victories to go with 16 Southeastern Conference titles, eight national championships and 32 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournaments.
She became the consistent force that made women’s basketball be taken seriously. Opposing coaches and players credit Summit for creating their opportunities because of her work ethic, drive and success.
Summitt was calm and relaxed during her farewell press conference, but she got “the look” once it was announced that she would be moving into the position of head coach emeritus after coaching the last eight months while suffering from early onset dementia, “Alzheimer’s Type.”
“It has been a privilege to make an impact on the lives of 161 women who have worn orange,” Summitt said. “I am so proud of the Lady Vols student athletes and the honor to see them graduate and become successful young women.”
Summitt will continue being part of Tennessee and women’s basketball, but she also will be a spokeswoman in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
That epitomizes heading into the unknown.
Tione Womack and Pat Summitt likely will never cross paths, as basketball will be taking them in different directions.
But each has benefitted the game while benefitting from it.
Because of that, they should be proud of “the look” of accomplishment.
Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at email@example.com.
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