October 24, 2023
Women’s basketball community remembers exceptional life of Tasha Butts
'We should all be as tough as Tasha was'
When Tasha Butts was hired by Georgetown women’s basketball in April of this year, she was thrilled to step into her first head coaching role.
“I wake up and I pinch myself every day. I still tell my mom on phone calls, I can’t believe I’m the head coach for Georgetown University, so [I] operate with an immense amount of gratitude and so I’m just — I’m just blessed and thankful to be be sitting in this seat, to be honest,” Butts told The Next in June.
On the day of that interview, June 28, Butts acknowledged the seven year anniversary of the passing of her college head coach and Hall of Famer, Pat Summitt. Tasha played for Summitt from 2000–04 as a member of the heralded Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball program, and saw it as her responsibility to carry on the legacy of her coach and mentor.
“Pat’s no longer here to speak for herself or [to] even carry on that legacy, and so it’s our job. It’s our job to do things the right way at our respective institutions,” Butts shared.
Just three months later, Butts stepped away from her head coaching responsibilities to focus on her health. On Monday, Georgetown Athletics announced her passing at the age of 41 after a two year battle with breast cancer. Much like it has done for Summitt, the women’s basketball community must now find a way to reckon with the passing of Tasha Butts and to honor her life and legacy.
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Elite player, beloved coach
During her storied collegiate career, Butts won four SEC regular season titles and helped the Lady Vols reach the national championship game in 2003 and 2004. She was drafted by the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx in the 2004 WNBA draft. Her professional career included stints with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets, as well as overseas action in Portugal and Israel.
“Our hearts are heavy as we learn of the passing of Tasha Butts,” the WNBA posted on X.
“A beloved member of the basketball community, Tasha was drafted 20th overall in 2004 by the Minnesota Lynx after a legendary career at Tennessee, and was continuing her legacy as a renowned coach at the college level.”
Butts’ coaching career began when she returned to her alma mater as a graduate assistant in 2005, joining Summitt on the coaching staff for the Lady Vols. After assistant coaching at Duquesne (2007–08), UCLA (2008–11) and LSU (2011–19), and taking an associate head coach position at Georgia Tech (2019–23), Butts was humbled by the opportunity to take over the Georgetown program with her own vision.
Although Butts didn’t get the chance to coach a game as a first-year head coach with the Hoyas, her impact on the Georgetown community and her players and staff will leave a lasting imprint.
“Tasha’s passing is a devastating loss. She was extraordinary — Tasha was a person of character, determination, vision and kindness. She will be deeply missed by our community and by so many people around the country who have been inspired by her life. We offer her family our most sincere condolences,” said Georgetown president John J. DeGioia.
Since her diagnosis in November 2021, Butts used her battle against breast cancer to raise awareness. Her Tasha Tough campaign through the Kay Yow Cancer Fund helped to bring quality care to women who needed support to pay for treatment.
During Tuesday’s BIG EAST media day at Madison Square Garden, in what would have been Butts’ first media day as a head coach, conference commissioner Val Ackerman began her opening statements with an acknowledgement of Butts.
“We should all be as tough as Tasha was,” Ackerman said.
As media day progressed, Tasha’s presence was all around. Players, coaches, team staff and members of the media wore “Tasha Tough” pins and kept her legacy at the forefront of the day.
Marquette head coach Megan Duffy, whose college basketball career (2002–06) overlapped with Tasha’s, remembers her contemporary as an elite competitor and incredible person both on and off the court.
“I remember just how much success she had as a as a player and obviously at Tennessee and then the WNBA; and we’re kind of in the same era of coming up the coaching ranks … She’s waited her turn [to get a head coaching opportunity] and just had some awesome questions about the league [when she was hired by Georgetown] … you talk about somebody who impacted our game and obviously had so many fantastic years ahead of her as a head coach and to have it cut short is really sad,” Duffy said.
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UConn head coach Geno Auriemma, whose legendary career has included competing against Butts during both her playing days and during her time as an assistant coach over the years, also shared his perspective on the loss of his coaching peer.
“We all start in the same way,” Auriemma said. “We all aspire to be head coaches — to do what we love to do. And then someone’s, not career, someone’s life is cut short at that age … It does make you kind of shake your head and reflect on your own journey and how you got here and how fortunate you are to still be able to do this.”
Georgetown’s Darnell Haney, whom Butts hired as her associate head coach in May, will assume head coaching responsibilities for the Hoyas program. Haney comes to Washington, D.C. following five seasons as head coach at Jacksonville University. Prior to his time as head coach at Jacksonville, he served as an assistant at Mississippi.
When Tasha called Haney about the associate coaching role, he felt immediate alignment with her vision for the program.
“She talked to me about her values,” Haney said. “And she talked to me about things she thought were important and the program, how I would be able to help her — our values aligned.”
Haney hopes to instill those values in his leadership of the program. He is now tasked with turning around a program that struggled towards a 14–17 (6–14 BIG EAST) record last season. As Haney adjusts to his role as head coach he, like so many others in the women’s basketball community, will do his best to carry forth the incredible legacy of Tasha Butts.
“She just was an amazing person coming from an amazing lineage,” Haney said. “I’m just grateful to [have known] her, I’m grateful to be part of this Georgetown family and I’m grateful that she was a part of my life.”