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Pac-12 Feature: VanDerveer's lasting impact

Feb 3, 2017

One Pac-12 head coach played for VanDerveer at Stanford. Another was an assistant coach on her staff. Still another was a high school player at her first camp. Yet another said her dream as a young player was to get a recruiting call from VanDerveer to come to play at Stanford. The Cardinal coach’s influence is this conference is wide and deep.

She has beaten them. She has welcomed them. She has challenged and motivated them.

With Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer inked in the history books, becoming only the second coach in Division I women’s basketball and the third Division I coach ever to notch 1,000 career victories, her coaching colleagues in the Pac-12 pay tribute to the Hall of Fame coach who has set the standard they are all trying to meet.

Kelly Graves, Oregon
“Tara’s teams always play hard, they play smart, they play well together, and that’s all coaching. They have a championship culture here and it’s something we are trying to get to, but it takes time. Kids come to Stanford because they want to compete for championships and they want to go deep in the tournament, and they learn from the kids who did it before them. And that is the culture she’s build. It’s easier to get to the top than it is to stay there. Look at all the years on the banner at Maples Pavilion. That’s incredible in this day and age. The fact that she continues to do it, hasn’t everybody said she is going to retire so many times…but she runs the program like a CEO. They have a way of doing things and they stick with it. And obviously, it works.” 

Cori Close, UCLA
“I was in high school when I went to Stanford camp, and it was her first year at Stanford. Stanford wasn’t very good when she got there. But I was at that camp as a high school player. It’s funny now, because June Daugherty was on her staff. Charli (Turner Thorne) was playing for her and working at the camp. And I remember going home after it was over and telling my dad ‘Stanford is going to be good really soon.’ And that was because of Tara. And obviously, I was right, although there’s no way you can foresee this. 1,000 wins. It’s unbelievable.”

Cynthia Cooper, USC
“There are girls playing basketball in college and women playing in the WNBA and overseas because of Tara and her commitment to the game. Her investment in the game has been amazing, in college basketball, with the Olympic team. Honestly, it’s because of that investment, that women are professional basketball players in the United States. You could say she is a pioneer, but she’s more than that. Tara is a winner, she figures out what her team needs to be successful and then they do that. She’s evolved with the game, and not everybody can do that. She’s just a great coach. But she’s also a big fan of the game. She’s a teacher of the game, and a student of the game.”

Mike Neighbors, Washington
“I am never going to get to 1,000 wins. I would have to outlive Methuselah to get to 1,000. When you start doing some math, it staggers you. When you play them you know, there’s no chance you will out coach them, that there is no chance you will surprise them with anything you do. And they are never going to be unprepared for anything. They are going to have a plan. I always tell my kids, when you play Stanford, you are going to learn what people say about you on a scouting report. And they are always spot on. As a coach, sometimes you win a game and you want to pat yourself on the back and feel like hey, I out-coached somebody. That never happens against Tara and her staff. It was intimidating. I remember one of the first thoughts I had when I became the head coach was ‘I’m going to have to coach against Tara VanDerveer’.”

Lindsay Gottlieb, Cal
“It’s almost unthinkable, 1000 wins. She’s done this job at such a high level for so many years and made it look routine. But you can’t take it for granted. It’s hard to put together 20-25 win seasons even a few years in a row, it’s so hard to think about doing it for 30 or more years. And on top of that, she’s done it with integrity, with all different kinds of players, as the conference has shifted. Tara finds a way to win, whether she has a No. 1 WNBA Draft pick or she doesn’t.”

Lynne Roberts, Utah
“I can’t even wrap my mind around coaching 1,000 games, much less winning 1,000 games. I don’t even know how to put it into words. Tara is a pioneer in our sport. I was in high school in Northern California when Stanford won their first national championship (in 1990). I always grew up hoping Tara would call me and recruit me. But that didn’t happen…When I first got into coaching, I went to a convention, and I don’t even remember where it was. But I saw Tara speak. She talked about how as a coach, on offense, you adapt to your players, not the other way around. I still remember it. It’s the unwavering consistency about how she leads, how she teachers, what she expects from her team. That’s what great leaders do.”

June Daugherty, Washington State
“This is a monumental achievement. Tara has a passion for women’s basketball and a passion to be great. She’s preached it, she’s lived it. And she wants other people to experience greatness. She will not settle for anything but people’s best. Year after year after year. You’ve got to be your best for her and she will do everything she can do help you get there.”

Scott Rueck, Oregon State
“She represents a standard of excellence and a relentless drive. Tara is as competitive as they come, but she’s done it in way that’s always classy. She sets a standard, especially on the West Coast for all of us. For a long time, everybody was trying to be Pat Summitt, but out here, everybody is trying to catch Tara. And she’s set the bar very high. Her teams expect to win every night. They keep you uncomfortable. You know when you are coaching against her that she is going to make you go to your weakness and that you are going to have come through and make plays.”

Adia Barnes, Arizona
“She has been there and done that and she has nothing to prove. She has 985 more wins than I do and still, when you talk to her, you feel like she really wants you to be successful. I know she wants to see other women do well, to see former players come to the game and do well. I talked to her at Pac-12 Media Day and before our last game and I know she’s someone that I can call if I have a question about anything.”

J.R. Payne, Colorado
“Everybody can have a great year, or you have a great class and they become, seniors and you have a great season. But to have those kind of seasons for 30-plus, that’s the part, the sustained success, that makes her so special. There are plenty of coaches that put a few years together, or have a nice little run. But she’s been the epitome of excellence forever. She’s had programs that so many of us watched, or aspired to be.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, the San Francisco Chronicle and AOL Fanhouse.