Indiana Miss Basketball Ely-Gash remembers legendary coach Pat Summitt


Shyra Ely-Gash holds her 15-month-old son Isaiah in the kitchen of her northwest side home.

"Can you smile?" asks Shyra. "Can I see your teethies?"

Shyra is pregnant with another boy due in September. Before Shyra dribbled duties as a mother, the 2001 Miss Basketball from Ben Davis High School played at Tennessee for college basketball's winningest coach, Pat Summitt

"It's intense," said Shyra. "You know she meant business. She's very demanding. She got everything out of you and she'd make you run through a brick wall. I loved playing for her."

Shyra played in four consecutive Final Fours under Summitt, who died Tuesday at age 64. Shyra recalls her first encounter with Summitt after her former coach was diagnosed with early onset dementia five years ago.  

"I hugged her and I was overcome with emotion," recalled Shyra. "She could tell I was getting ready to cry. She said, 'Eli, don't you throw me no pity party.' She said, 'You'll be the only one there.' And that stuck with me."

Indianapolis hosted its first Women's NCAA Final Four in 2005 at the RCA Dome. Shyra was a senior returning to her hometown. Summitt always tried to schedule a game in the home state of her senior players. Summitt offered to schedule a game at Notre Dame. Shyra declined.

"We're going to the Final Four," Shyra recalled telling Summitt. "We're going back to Indianapolis. I just loved that she included us in everything."

Shyra's college career ended in the national semifinals with a loss to Michigan State. Tennessee lost a 16-point lead in the game.

"It was tough because I don't think anybody wanted that championship more than me," said Shyra.

Shyra’s college career ended in Indianapolis without a national championship. The influence of coach Summitt remains.

"She molded the woman that I am today," said Shyra. "It just seemed like she was Superwoman. She could do it all. For her life to be based on so many ginormous memories and then to have those slowing taken away, that's what hurt me the most, pretty much her not knowing how great she was."

Shyra last saw Summitt in January at a Lady Vols reunion in Knoxville. Summitt held Isaiah and gave Shyra an approving wink.

"I’m very thankful that my son was with me and she got the opportunity to meet him and hug on him," said Shyra. "That's definitely a memory that I'll cherish forever."

Summitt coached four Indiana Miss Basketball winners (Abby Conklin 1993, April McDivitt 1999, Shyra Ely-Gash 2001, Shanna Zolman 2002). Summitt never had a losing record in 38 seasons at Tennessee on the way to winning 1,098 games, the most of any division one college basketball coach. Summitt led the Lady Vols to eight national championships and 18 Final Fours. She also coached the United States to the 1984 Olympics gold medal.

"She sort of had this aura of strength and determination and warmth all at the same time," said Indiana Fever President Kelly Krauskopf, appearing on WTHR Eyewitness News. "She challenged her players to get the best out of them and would put her arm around them when times were tough."

Fever head coach Stephanie White issued a statement:

"I'm saddened to hear the news of Pat's passing. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and the entire UT community. She's an ambassador of leadership, strength and courage that transcends sport.  Her legacy lives on in all of those she touched. I'm forever grateful for the impact she made on me in the short amount of time we spent together."

Indiana Fever star Tamika Catchings was a four-year All-American under Summitt (1998-2001) and won the 1998 NCAA championship at Tennessee. The Fever said Tuesday that Catchings was mourning the passing of her former coach, mentor and friend and might comment at a later time.

Summitt will be buried in a private funeral service with family and friends. A public celebration of life service is scheduled for July 14th at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee.