Stanford Suits Her Just Fine : Basketball: Coach Tara VanDerveer was warned by her father she could not win in Palo Alto, but she has won two NCAA titles in past three years.
In 1985, among those who advised Tara VanDerveer not to take the Stanford women’s basketball coaching job was Dunbar VanDerveer, her father.
“Coaching at Stanford will never get you anywhere,” he told her.
Recalling this admonition recently, VanDerveer said: “I make it a point to send Dad postcards from places like China, Moscow, London and Paris.”
Join the Stanford women’s basketball team and see the world.
Last summer, after winning the NCAA championship, the Cardinal women played eight games in 13 days in a tournament at Toulouse, France. And they won it.
In recent years, VanDerveer has been selected to coach U.S. teams competing in China, the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and England.
Midway through the 1992-93 Pacific 10 women’s basketball race, Stanford is in a familiar position--first place. But it is in a tie, with USC. Both are 8-2.
In recent years, it has become the status quo in the Pac-10. Stanford rules. Or, VanDerveer rules.
--In the seasons of 1977 and 1978, Idaho women’s teams were 2-16 and 10-7. VanDerveer, then a graduate assistant at Ohio State, was hired. She put together 17-8 and 25-6 teams.
--In the seasons of 1979 and 1980, the Ohio State teams were 19-11 and 16-8. VanDerveer was hired. Within one season, Ohio State went 20-7 and 23-5.
--In the seasons of 1984 and 1985, Stanford was 5-23 and 9-19. VanDerveer was hired. And at a school where her father and others warned her she could not win, her teams have been 27-5, 28-3, 32-1, 26-6 and 30-3 over the last five seasons. In two of the last three seasons, Stanford has won NCAA titles.
At 39, entering this season, she had won 322 games.
She was asked how she could so quickly turn around three programs.
“I’ve been lucky to have good staffs and good support from three administrations,” she said.
“Obviously, recruiting at Stanford is very difficult. We can recruit about one girl out of 10 we look at. Of the five girls we’re bringing in on scholarship next September, their average grade-point is 3.87.”
Stanford’s most spectacular player, 5-foot-6 point guard Molly Goodenbour of Waterloo, Iowa, was a summer-league find.
“I actually never saw her play in high school,” VanDerveer said. “We recruited her based on what we saw of her in a summer league.
“We work very hard at recruiting. To compete at the Final Four level, you need nine or 10 outstanding players, and it’s really hard for us to find that many who qualify academically for Stanford.”
During Stanford’s 76-67 victory over USC Jan. 23 at Palo Alto, VanDerveer was alone on the bench with her players. Both assistant coaches, she said, were in Washington state, recruiting.
Stanford returned every starter from last year’s NCAA championship team that had a 30-3 record and yet is ranked only ninth this week in the Associated Press women’s basketball poll, a status some attribute to the balance among strong programs in women’s basketball.
Stanford is 17-4 overall and 8-2 in the Pac-10. The Cardinal has lost twice to Tennessee, once at USC and once at Washington.
This team isn’t an easy one to gauge, the coach said.
“It’s a very different kind of situation for a coach, having a defending national champion team and all the starters back,” VanDerveer said. “When they play poorly, like they did at USC, no matter what I tell them, I can see in their eyes what they’re thinking: ‘Oh, come on, coach--we know how to do this. We’re just having a bad game.’ ”
At USC last month, with Stanford trailing, 37-24, at halftime, VanDerveer tried an emotional appeal.
“I was upset with them, and I told them so at halftime,” she said.
“I told them they had more responsibility to their game than the men do. After I told them they were playing poorly, I told them: ‘What if you knew someone had tuned in the game on TV and had never seen a women’s game before, or someone was in the stands who had never seen a women’s game?’
“I asked them: ‘How would you feel, if you knew that?’ ”
No reaction. Emotion came up empty, apparently. USC won, 67-55.
But the Cardinal evened the score at Palo Alto less than a week later with a victory before a sellout crowd of 7,500 in Maples Pavilion.
Attendance is part of the women’s basketball story at Stanford this season.
That Maples sellout was the second in one week for the women’s team, the fourth since 1990.
The Stanford women are out-drawing the men’s team by about 2,400 per game.
“That’s a very sensitive subject around here,” said Steve Raczynski, Stanford sports information director. “When someone asks us about it (attendance) we answer the question. We don’t volunteer it.”
It isn’t sensitive to VanDerveer.
Women’s college basketball is booming, she says. If it continues to grow, she will have gone from the infancy to the maturity of her sport.
“We’re going great guns,” she said of the health of the game nationally.
“When Tennessee played at Vanderbilt before more than 15,000, the game had been sold out two weeks in advance. Crowds are up almost everywhere. It’s now acceptable for women to sweat.”
It was barely acceptable for women to perspire when VanDerveer played and when she began coaching.
“I grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., the oldest of five and the only girl,” she said. “My brothers used to pound on me in driveway and playground games. I played in YMCAs and Monday night recreation leagues with adult women. I got killed. I played my freshman college year at the State University of New York (at Albany) and jumped center. I led the team in turnovers and assists.
“One year I drove 16 hours to the AIAW (Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) championships. I sat there and took notes.
“Our high school didn’t even have a girls’ team. And when I played at Indiana, it was the stone age of women’s basketball. We played a nine-game schedule. And we had to buy our own shoes and launder our own uniforms.
“I took all of Bobby Knight’s coaching classes at Indiana. If you took his classes, you could attend his practices. So I went to every one of his practices that I could and took notes.”
What did she retain?
“He ran very intense practices--that influenced me. And he can get very specific on what he wants done. Sometimes I try to be specific, too.”
She was a graduate assistant coach at Ohio State when she secured her first head coaching job in 1978, at Idaho.
“At Idaho, we had to play doubleheaders with the men,” VanDerveer said, “so our games started at 5:30. One day an assistant athletic director said to me: ‘By the way, if you have an overtime game, it’ll have to be sudden death--we can’t delay the men’s game.’
“I said absolutely not, we’d play a full overtime period and that was the end of it.”
She returned to Ohio State as the head coach in 1980 and won four Big Ten championships in five seasons. She was the Big Ten coach of the year her last two seasons.
When Stanford beckoned, few urged her to make the move.
But she has won consistently, and even won some improbable championships.
Last season, with three first-team all-Pac-10 starters gone, no one imagined a Final Four trip. But Stanford, with a vastly improved Goodenbour running the team, the maturation of post player Val Whiting and the addition of 6-3 freshman Rachel Hemmer, swept into the Final Four in Los Angeles with a 28-3 record and beat Western Kentucky in the NCAA title game, 78-62.
Can this team win another NCAA title?
“Sure we can,” VanDerveer said.
“But so can 10 other teams. The difference is, we’ve already done it and we know we can do it again.”