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Raise the Roof: The Inspiring Inside Story of the Tennessee Lady Vols' Undefeated 1997-98 Season

Raise the Roof: The Inspiring Inside Story of the Tennessee Lady Vols' Undefeated 1997-98 Season

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by Pat Summitt, Jenkins, Sally Jenkins (With)

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"It wasn't a team. It was a tent revival."

So says Pat Summitt, the legendary coach whose Tennessee Lady Vols entered the 1997-98 season aiming for an almost unprecedented "three-peat" of NCAA championships. Raise the Roof takes you right inside the locker room of her amazing team, whose inspired mixture of gifted freshmen and seasoned stars produced a


"It wasn't a team. It was a tent revival."

So says Pat Summitt, the legendary coach whose Tennessee Lady Vols entered the 1997-98 season aiming for an almost unprecedented "three-peat" of NCAA championships. Raise the Roof takes you right inside the locker room of her amazing team, whose inspired mixture of gifted freshmen and seasoned stars produced a standard of play that would change the game of women's basketball forever.

The 1997-98 season started innocently enough. One Saturday in August, four young freshmen—Semeka Randall, Tamika Catchings, Ace Clement and Teresa Geter—arrived on the Tennessee campus to begin their college careers. Welcoming them were a number of players from the previous year, including Chamique Holdsclaw and Kellie Jolly. But that night, in a sign of things to come, a simple pickup game turned into an amazing display of basketball brilliance—freshmen against established players, and with barely a shot missed by either side. Suddenly Pat Summitt glimpsed the future: fast, aggressive and hugely talented. This might be the team she'd worked her whole career to coach.

As the season got under way, other dramas unfolded. After one emotional team meeting, Summitt realized that many on the team were playing for something more than just the glory of the game: all four freshmen, for example, came from single-parent homes, and the tough circumstances of the majority of the other players seemed to add an extra edge to their desire to win it all. Further, Chamique Holdsclaw, widely regarded as the greatest female player ever, was being dogged by questions about turning pro—and she seemed reluctant to ruleit out. Meanwhile, another member of the team began to notice the unwelcome attentions of a fan, who soon turned out to be a full-fledged stalker.

All this was behind the scenes; out on the court, the win column was swelling with every game: 8-0, 15-0, 21-0. As 1997 turned into 1998, Pat Summitt began privately to admit that this team had changed her: these kids were so lovable, funny and eager to please that she simply had to let them into her heart. Along the way, the Lady Vols were redefining what women were capable of, trading in old definitions of femininity for new ones—in short, they were keeping score. And by the time they entered the NCAA Final Four tournament in Kansas City, Summitt found herself believing the impossible: despite all the distractions, the 1997-98 Lady Vols could go undefeated, and, in doing so, raise the roof off the sport of women's basketball.

Packed with the excitement of a season on the brink of perfection and filled with the comedy and tragedy of one year in the life of a basketball team, Raise the Roof will have readers cheering from the bench for a team of all-conquering players and their astonishing coach.

Product Details

Broadway Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.61(h) x 1.04(d)

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Read an Excerpt

No Girls Allowed

I'm a forty-five-year-old woman with a controlling nature and crow's feet from squinting into the country sun, and it's just not like me to act the way I did. To be so free with my feelings, and to wear blue jeans, of all things. Ordinarily, I'm in charge. I wear a suit and a perpetual glare. I'm a coach, so I take the issue of control personally. I've always seen the movements of players on a basketball court as an extension of myself, like puppets on a string. Their failures were my fault, their successes my responsibility. I demanded that they act like Pat, and think like Pat. A row of little Patlings. So when, exactly, did I let go? When did I decide to let this team run? And when did they start running me?

The truth is, I loved them. Of course, all coaches say they love their teams. When really, you love some of them more than others, and some of them you don't like at all. But love or like, I've always yelled at them. I yell, because I'm a yeller. I'm a yeller, and so I yell. My voice gets so hoarse it sounds like tires crunching over gravel. During the season, I go through economy-sized packages of throat lozenges.

With this team, though, I was different.

My top assistant coach, Mickie DeMoss, was the first person to suggest I should go softer on them. As our recruiting coordinator, she knew the strengths and sympathized with the flaws of the 1997-98 Tennessee Lady Volunteers more deeply than any of us. Something in them got to her, early. Maybe it was the fact that they were so young and unguarded, or that they had such large eyes, begging to be taught. "Pat, don't yell at this team," Mickie said, back in the summertime. "They want toplay for you."

We were driving through a desolate strip of Texas on a recruiting trip. I said, "What do you mean?" I'd been shouting for twenty-three years, as long as I had been the head coach at Tennessee. It had always worked before. We had been to the NCAA Final Four fourteen times, and won five national championships in ten years. But Mickie said I ought to consider something new. For once, I should try not raising my voice.

Mickie said, "They're different. They're spirited, and I don't want to see that spirit broken."

I thought about it for a minute.

I said, "Well, I can't promise you.

Mickie said, warningly, "Pat . . ."

I said, "All right, I'll try."

I'm not saying I didn't have my snappish moments. It wasn't like I underwent a complete personality transplant. But something happened to me. In the 1997-98 Lady Vols I finally met a group of players more driven than I am. They were harder on themselves than I ever could have been. That was clear from the moment they stepped on campus.

The funny thing was, what turned out to be the toughest game of the year may have been played before the season ever started. And I wasn't even there for it. I should have known right then that this team was out of the ordinary.

It was a sweltering night in the dregs of summer, August 23, 1997, a Saturday, their first day on the University of Tennessee grounds. What's the first thing they did? They went looking for a basketball. Long before anyone put on a Tennessee uniform, the whole team, a dozen young women clad in baggy, mismatching rayon shorts and raggedy T-shirts, gathered to play pickup. It was a contest of us against ourselves. A showdown. The Tennessee Lady Vols against the Tennessee Lady Vols.

There were no scoreboards, no officials, no crowds, no coaches. It was just pure game, a strictly private affair. I didn't even know about it until after the fact--and I probably still don't know the half of it. You could ask one of our players for the full story, but I doubt they would tell you because, like most great teams, they're a secretive bunch. And even if they did tell you, you probably wouldn't understand much of what they said. As someone remarked not long ago, the Lady Vols aren't a team, they're a cult. They have a tendency to speak in code. For instance, a ball is not a ball, it's "the rock," and you don't shoot it, you "throw it down." Your best friend is "your dog." If something is great, it's "tight," or if it's silly, it's "sadiddy." And this isn't a beginning, it's "the jump."

So it's up to me to tell the story.

The thing about that pickup game is that right from "the jump," it was no everyday contest. It was more than that. It was an initiation. Earlier in the day, four new freshmen had arrived, a quartet of high school All-Americans with big games and even bigger reputations. They were being called the single best recruiting class in history. And maybe they were.

But each one of them came to Tennessee with a host of private insecurities.

One by one, the freshmen parked in back of Humes Hall on the Tennessee campus and began unloading their bags and carrying them to the suite they would occupy together for the next year. They drove in from various points of the compass, from Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The 1997-98 Lady Vols were about to arrive.

Kristen ""Ace'' Clement had one thought in her mind as she pulled up to the dorm. "Please God, don't let it be like high school." She was a glamorous left-handed point guard from Broomall, Pennsylvania, with a floppy ponytail and an almost illusory passing ability, a sleight-of-hand artist who could make the ball seem to flicker around the court. And she had a remarkable record to her credit--she had broken Wilt Chamberlain's all-time city high school scoring mark in Philadelphia. But Ace was to prove fragile, as I would discover.

Ace was the youngest of six children, the daughter of a fifty-five-year-old divorcee named Sue Carney. I knew Ace wasn't the only one starting a new life that day. So was Sue. When Ace went south, Sue simply decided to go with her. Sue had reared her six kids largely on her own, despite the fact that she had struggled to work ever since complications from back surgery had left her with a long-term disability. She was scraping by on savings and a military pension.

Sue wanted to get out of the cold northeast, having spent her whole adult life moving from job to job in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Sue imagined that the south represented an easier kind of living. So when Ace was recruited by Tennessee, Sue made up her mind. She visited Knoxville with Ace and found that the pace was slow and the people friendly. It was perfect--this way she could change her life, and follow Ace's career at the same time.

Ace and Sue were wracked by nerves the day they left Philadelphia. Sue was a fast-talking, enthusiastic woman under any circumstances, but as they packed up she was going one hundred miles an hour. "Come on, come on, we're going to be late," Sue told Ace, in her staccato Philly accent, as she hustled Ace out the front door of their Broomall condo for the last time. It was 11 p.m., and they had a ten-hour drive ahead. Sue intended to make Knoxville by early morning. She wanted Ace to be on time, to get off on the right foot in the program. They had heard that I was exacting on the subject of punctuality.

When they pulled up to Humes Hall, it was only a little after 9 a.m. The doors were just being unlocked. Ace rolled her eyes. They were the first ones there. There wasn't another car or student in sight.

One thing about Sue, she didn't intend to baby Ace, even if she was her youngest. She loved her daughter enough to follow her to Tennessee, but she wanted this day to be a genuine leave-taking. Ace should feel like she was going away to college, not like she was crossing the street. That meant living in the dorm, not running home at the earliest opportunity, and not calling her mother every time she felt a stab of insecurity.

Ace was feeling plenty insecure, all right. Already, she missed Philadelphia. She was city bred. Her whole life, all of her friends, her dates, her sisters and brothers, were back in Philadelphia and New Hampshire.

Together, Ace and Sue unpacked the car. Sue hung pictures and helped Ace put her belongings away, and then she lingered in the dorm, making sure Ace was settled in. For all of her determination to let Ace go, Sue needed to feel comfortable and sure her daughter was okay before she could leave. But it was time. Sue had to apartment hunt and find what would be her own home for at least the next four years. Sue kissed Ace and was gone.

Ace was alone. She surveyed the two-bedroom suite that she was to share with the other three freshmen. Ace hoped fervently that they would get along. In high school, it seemed there was always someone who hated her. They hated her for being good. They hated her for being beautiful. It wasn't her fault she looked like a Miss Hawaiian Tropic beauty contest winner (which she was). "It's your cross to bear," Sue would tell her. This time around, Ace was determined to be liked for who she was, not hated for how she looked.

She finished unpacking. She wondered how long it would be until the first vacation. She wondered how quickly she could get back to Philadelphia.

Meet the Author

Pat Summitt became head coach of the women's basketball team at Tennessee in 1974; since then, she has won more national championships than any coach, man or woman, since John Wooden.  In the 1976 Olympics, as co-captain she led the U.S. women's squad to a silver medal, and in the 1984 Olympics--this time as coach--her team brought home the gold medal.  She is the author, with Sally Jenkins, of the bestselling Reach for the Summit.  A native of Tennessee, she lives in Knoxville with her husband, R.B., and their son Tyler.

Sally Jenkins is the author of Men Will Be Boys and the cowriter of Pat Summitt's first book, Reach for the Summit.  A veteran sports reporter whose work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, she has worked for the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated and Condé Nast's Women's Sports and Fitness.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Raise the Roof: The Inspiring inside Story of the Tennessee Lady Vols' Undefeated 1997-98 Season 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. From a Lady Vol fan, I didn't want to put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books that I have read. Pat Summitt is truly the best coach in all of college athletics. The story of how she inspires her team really does make her a legend in her own time. Awesome book.