In final, coaching familiarity breed respect Among game's elite, rivals Summitt, Barmore show intelligence, grace


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - No one is surprised that Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt is working in tonight's ++ NCAA championship game, her eighth.

After all, she does have a team- unbeaten in 38 games this year and 44 overall-considered by many to be the greatest of all time.

But there shouldn't be much of shock that Louisiana Tech's Leon Barmore will be patrolling the other bench. The two coaches have circled each other at the top of women's basketball for two decades, and these are the only two schools to reach all 17 NCAA tournaments.

They've stalked each other this season, as the Lady Vols began the season ranked No. 1, where they've remained all year; Louisiana Tech was ranked second in the preseason, but lost to Tennessee, 75-61, in the season opener.

"If you look over the years, traditionally we have played Louisiana Tech in a lot of big games. It comes as no surprise that they're in this position and we're in this position," said Summitt, who beat Barmore in the 1987 title game, 67-44.

And unlike the snippiness that can characterise the relationships between top coaches in men's college h ask et ball, Barmore and Summitt, who have 20 Final Four trips, 13 championship game appearances and more than 1,100 career wins between them, deeply respect and admire what the other has done in maintaining their status as the best women's coaches.

"If it comes down to the wire, I told our team don't expect us to outthink Coach Barmore- he's been here and done this and understands what to do in this situation, and we do, too, so you have to go play," said Summitt yesterday.

Said Barmore: "I know if I don't bring my A-game as a coach, I don't have a prayer. And I've got, also, to bring my team's A-game. I think that when I beat her, and we have some through the years, it's for the rushes you don't get from beating other people. It's the high in the coaching profession that you've beaten the best."

At a time when coaches bounce from place to place, Summitt and Barmore are pillars of tradition, each remaining at the same place for an entire coaching career. Summitt has been in charge at Tennessee for 24 years, racking up 663 wins and a record five NCAA titles.

Barmore, meanwhile, a 1967 Tech graduate, has been head coach in Ruston for 16 seasons, though he was an assistant coach for three seasons before that, , with a 459-70 career mark that makes for the highest active winning percentage of any college coach- men's or women's.

Those who have been around lathe two of them say that they are I also rock-solid in the way they approach the game, as intense leaders who can get more out of a well- placed stare than many coaches can out of a harangue.

Summitt and Barmore are also basketball instructors who point out the way they want things done, but allow those within their systems enough creativity to l make things different.

"Both Leon and Pat are good enough coaches that they're going to take the personnel that they have, and it may not be the same style that we had back in '87 or the style that Leon had in '87. But you: take what you've got, and you say, 'How can I get the most out of what I have?' " said Tennessee assistant Mickie DeMoss, who has worked for Summitt for 12 years after playing (( three years at Tech.

"He's got some players that are pretty free to get up and down the floor and take shots and the same thing with us. People say: 'I can't believe this is a Pat Summitt team when they see some of the shots we take. But they've both learned to, and they're good enough coaches to be flexible with the personnel that they have and to get the most of that personnel.

That's what makes them good."

The similarities end there, however. Summitt is gregarious and welcomes the publicity her two-time defending champion team has garnered both for the school and for women's basketball, from books to documentaries.

Barmore, meanwhile, is thought, in some quarters, to be a bit cantankerous. In a news conference after Friday night's semifinal win over North Carolina State, Barmore asked for a reporter who asked about the Lady Techsters' buzzer-beating loss to North Carolina in the 1994 championship game to stand up and identify himself.

He's pretty to himself. He keeps his distance from us. He doesn't hang out with us at the hotel and stuff like that," said Tech guard Monica Maxwell. "He's kind of quiet. Sometimes, he's grumpy."

But Barmore is also fiercely loyal and protective of his players and staff.

"He's very passionate about what he does. His coaching basketball and taking care of those players are what he loves. He believes in it. That's what he does and he does a great job of that," said Nell Fortner, coach of the United States national team and an assistant to Barmore for five years. "He's a great basketball coach and teacher. He never lets his guard down. He's a worker.

You have to give his assistants credit. They keep bringing in players that he can coach. He's passionate about it and it rubs off on those who are around him."

! Pub Date: 3/29/98

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