Ever since that day in December '87, during her freshman year, when Michelle persuaded her mom to take her on an unofficial visit to Knoxville and she watched this tall, handsome, crisply dressed woman coach a game and a practice, Michelle's aim in life had been to play for Pat. That practice had blown her mind; never had Michelle met a woman—hell, a human being—so intense, so authoritative, so certain and yet so caring. Pat walked into a room, and everything about her—her ramrod posture, her confident smile, her piercing blue eyes and her direct manner of speaking—said, "I love what I'm doing and this is what I'm here to talk about, and you'll pay attention while I'm talking or you'll leave the room." Michelle could picture her as president—no, not of the university but of the country! And imagine this: Coach Summitt told her girls to call her Pat!
For hours the teenager would thumb through her bible, a scrapbook full of photographs of Tennessee women's basketball and of warm notes from Pat. To heck with rival recruiters who warned her that Pat would snuff out her flamboyance on the court—envy, pure poison envy. She was going to play for the lady, case closed...until that afternoon in the spring of 1990, the end of her junior year. It was the day after Michelle's second unofficial visit to Knoxville, and on the way home she stopped in Hampton, Va., to play in an AAU tournament. She had decided it was time to announce her decision to the world when....
"Did you hear about Tiffany?" It was her AAU coach, Michael Flynn, addressing Michelle just before she took the court.
"No, what about her?" said Michelle.
"She committed to Tennessee."
"That can't be true! I was just there yesterday!"
"Well, it is. She committed today."
Michelle felt as if she were choking, as if she might faint. Tiffany Woosley was the girl who would vie with Michelle for every player of the year award during their senior seasons. A Tennessee girl, for crying out loud, who played point guard, the same position as Michelle; no way there would be playing time for two freshman guards! Pat must have betrayed her! Pat must have tipped off Tiffany that Michelle was about to commit, and now Tiffany was the first one, the special one, the local hero with the inside track, and Michelle's dream was up in smoke!
She cried her way up I-95 on the journey home. Bitterly she studied the list of 200 other universities offering her scholarships and searched for a team with no dictator, no system to submit to, somewhere she could play the splashy, spinning, behind-the-back-and-between-the-legs game she loved, light it up for 30 a night and stick it to that cruel lady who....
Who now, six months later, has just hopelessly muddled Michelle by nearly dropping a baby in her lap! "If she didn't really want me, why did she go through all that, Mom?" Michelle asks as the two sit up past midnight, waiting for Pat to call. Michelle has always believed in omens, in signals from God. "Maybe this means I was meant to go with her," she says. "I almost feel like I'm the godmother of this baby."