Once In A Lifetime

By Michelle Smith

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Tara VanDerveer smiled wide as they slipped the black, crested blazer on to her shoulders Thursday afternoon at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

From where she was standing, she couldn't see that her picture had already been added to the museum's top-floor photo collage of inductees, cementing her place in history of the game.

"Is it up there? I don't have my contacts in," she confessed, with another smile.

VanDerveer will receive the highest individual honor of her storied career on Friday night when she is enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame.

The longtime Stanford coach will go in with a 10-member class at Symphony Hall in Springfield, the birthplace of basketball.

She goes in with 826 coaching victories, two national titles (1990 and 1992), an Olympic gold medal (1996), four national coach of the year awards, nine trips with the Cardinal to the NCAA Women's Final Four and 19 Pac-10 Conference titles.

" I think I have been at the right place at the right time many times in my career. In a way, this seems serendipitous.

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She goes in as one of two female inductees, along with Teresa Edwards, who was one of the key players on that 1996 team that won gold in Atlanta, a team that led directly to the formation of the 15-year-old WNBA.

"I think I have been at the right place at the right time many times in my career," VanDerveer said. "In a way, this seems serendipitous."

VanDerveer has been a head coach since 1978. She has spent 25 of those years at Stanford, earning a reputation not only as one of the winningest coaches in the college game, but one of its most detailed, prepared and driven.

The young coach who used to go to other team's practices just to sit and watch and fill a notebook with X's and O's before she went to sleep every night has not only reached the pinnacle of her sport, but she's proven as relevant as ever after leading her Cardinal to four straight Final Four appearances.

"I'm thrilled for Tara and I think the whole Stanford family is," said former Stanford All-American Jayne Appel. "She's the person who taught us all to work hard and to see her rewarded like this for her hard work, it just seems appropriate."

VanDerveer said she puts her enshrinement into the same category as leading a star-laden U.S. team to the Olympic gold medal back in 1996.

"It's only going to happen one time and I'm going to enjoy it," the coach said. "It's a tremendous honor, especially when I think about all the people who have been a part of this game."

VanDerveer, who will be introduced by former Texas coach (and fellow Hall of Famer Jody Conradt) is accompanied in Springfield by all of her four siblings, her mother Rita and extended family, many of whom live in town. Assistant coaches Amy Tucker and Kate Paye made the trip along with a handful of former players.

She said she's heard from many more, including some from Idaho and Ohio State, the first stops in her now Hall of Fame career.

She got a letter from former Indiana coach Bob Knight - VanDerveer used to attend his practices when she was a student at Indiana - that she called "scrapbook material."

"I've heard from a lot of people on Facebook," VanDereer said. "A lot of them."

Even her first basketball coach from gym class in the 7th grade will be in the theater for her induction speech.

Springfield represents something of a homecoming for the 58-year-old New York native.

VanDerveer spent many holidays in Springfield with family. It is where her mother grew up and her parents met while attending Springfield College.

"She doesn't get really excited by much and I think she's really excited about this," said sister Heidi VanDerveer.

Tara VanDerveer is so excited, in fact, that she told a room full of reporters "that I might get a tattoo."

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