Pac-12 Feature: Stanford's Tara VanDerveer joins history
As the minutes ticked down to tip-off, Tara VanDerveer sat on the Stanford bench, hands folded in her lap, quietly chatting with associate head coach (and former point guard) Kate Paye.
Maples Pavilion was filling with fans, dignitaries, fellow coaches, former players and even a few Olympians to watch some history. The place was buzzing with anticipation.
VanDerveer, the Cardinal’s understated, but relentlessly driven head coach, became the second coach in women’s college basketball history to win 1,000 games Friday night with Stanford’s 58-42 win over USC at Maples Pavilion, sparking a celebration that has been a long time coming.
VanDerveer joins Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as the only coaches in Division I college basketball history to win 1,000 games.
“I never started coaching to win 1,000 games,” VanDerveer said after the game, taking the mic in a postgame celebration that included recognitions from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, a special jersey from her team and a video tribute that included former star players such as Jayne Appel, Candice Wiggins, Jeanette Pohlen and Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike.
All paid tribute to the Hall of Fame coach who has defined excellence in women’s basketball for nearly four decades.
USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke had her players stay out on the floor to watch part of the celebration as a sign of respect for what VanDerveer has done.
“One thousand wins is unimaginable,” said Cooper-Dyke, who was a player at USC when VanDerveer began her coaching career at Stanford in 1986, coming from Ohio State. “She has created not only a culture of winning, but of being great. I would want my daughter to play for someone who would let her settle for being average or just OK, but someone who would want her to be a great woman.”
VanDerveer herself, was obviously humbled by the moment and what it meant. She came to the press room after a locker room celebration that included a lot of her former players – including Jennifer Azzi and Brooke Smith – and a little cake.
“It’s a little surreal, really,” VanDerveer said. “It’s a little mind-boggling for me really. It’s been a really exciting and fun journey. I’m working hard to keep it all together.”
The Stanford players said that getting their coach to this milestone was on their list of goals to start the year. And after beating Washington last Sunday in Seattle for a huge No. 999, they said they could feel the weight of the moment this week.
“It was a little tense this week,” said senior forward Erica McCall. “I was a little bit nervous. We all knew we wanted to do this for Tara.”
VanDerveer said she acknowledged the moment with her team before the game.
“I said ‘I’m not going to lie, this is a special night,’’ VanDerveer said. “But I told them to just have fun, relax and let’s play well. There are going to be bigger wins than this this year.”
VanDerveer said she has been receiving well-wishes all week from all over the country, from fellow coaches such as Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Texas head coach Shaka Smart.
“I don’t even know how he got my phone number,” joked VanDerveer.
Earlier this week, her team was getting ready to practice as the Stanford men’s team was leaving the floor, and the men’s players came down the hall offering high-fives and best wishes.
VanDerveer admitted she does not like to be in the spotlight.
“It’s never been about me,” VanDerveer said. “But what hit me was the excitement of our players.”
VanDerveer’s greatest gift as a coach has been her ability to be demanding and direct, but also totally committed to her players and her vision of what basketball should be. A vision that she’s been willing to tailor to the talents and the skills of the players she has on the floor.
“I believe that basketball is a team sport, a fundamental sport, and I’m rigid that way, I guess,” VanDerveer said. “I’ve never tried to be anybody but me."
“I am demanding, but I don’t know any other way to be. I am direct. But I feel like my players can see the love I have for the game.” And her players, past and present, have demonstrated their affection for her in return.
“The magnitude of 1,000 wins, I can’t even wrap my head around it,” said former post player Heather Owen, who now works in the Stanford athletic department. “For me, because I am here all the time, I can see better what it takes to win, to spend all those players competing at such a high level. It’s something that not many people can do.”
For now, it’s something that only three people can do. VanDerveer has joined the club.
Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.