Two coaches in college women’s basketball history have 1,098 career wins. The legendary Pat Summitt and Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer. That’s it.
VanDerveer’s gameplan, decisions and players led No. 1 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) to a resounding 83-38 win over Cal (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) in Haas Pavilion on Sunday. A far cry from the celebrations of Tara’s 1,000th career win in Maples Pavilion, or other milestones, the arena was silent as soon as the congratulatory message left the screen and the music was turned off.
Charmin Smith, the Cal head coach, a Stanford graduate and a former assistant on VanDerveer’s team, could only wave to Stanford’s side during the pregame.
Wearing a white quarter-zip jacket and a black mask with a white Stanford block “S,” VanDerveer appeared relaxed in Berkeley. Pregame, she chatted with associate head coach Kate Paye ’95, ’02 JD, ’03 MBA, who is in her 14th year on the coaching staff and fifth in her current position.
VanDerveer was just as comfortable with first-year assistant coaches Britney Anderson and Katy Steding ’90. When Stanford converted on a basket, VanDerveer would clap once, twice or up to six times if there was a special play.
There were a few. Sophomore forward Fran Belibi dunked, becoming the first Stanford player to do so and the first person to do so in the college game since 2013. Even that did not get VanDerveer out of her seat. For the whole game, she left her chair around a dozen times, usually to give a player a word of advice as they checked out of the game.
Instead, VanDerveer sat with her hands clasped over her knees. Meanwhile on the other side of the court, Smith stood a few feet onto the court, especially when action was on the other end.
Postgame, VanDerveer also praised the vision of freshman guard Jana Van Gytenbeek in finding sophomore guard Hannah Jump for a bucket in transition. It was part of a broader theme of the immensely humble VanDerveer deflecting the media’s admiration-soaked questions onto the people around her.
VanDerveer quickly deferred credit to the athletic directors who hired her, the assistants who have been by her side and the players she coached.
“Basketball was invented as, always has been, and always will be a great team sport,” VanDerveer said. “I don’t consider myself a John Wooden Jr. coach, but I’m determined and I work hard. I love this game of basketball. And I really, really, really love coaching young women and helping them get better.”
During the game, Steding took the chair to VanDerveer’s left, while Paye and Anderson sat on her right. Most often, VanDerveer would lean to her right to run something by Paye. Assistant athletic director of basketball operations, Eileen Roche, was also on the sidelines in her 16th season.
No one at the game had been around VanDerveer as long as women’s basketball administrator Amy Tucker, who took a seat in the first row of the stands across the court from Stanford’s bench. VanDerveer felt the absence of Rita VanDerveer, her mom.
“It would feel different if you were playing in front of a crowd or if my mom is there,” VanDerveer said. “There’s probably a side of me that this just allows me to fly under the radar a little bit, and that’s okay.”
VanDerveer’s red bullhorn was left underneath her chair because, as she describes, it is of little use when the arena plays fake crowd noise.
During full timeouts, the team would migrate to a semi-circle of chairs set up behind the basket. In front, Tara sat facing the five players in the game, all of whom were siting. The rest of the team stood behind, while the assistant coaches stood behind VanDerveer and glanced over the stat sheets. When the timeout was over, associate athletic trainer Katelin Knox wiped down the chairs.
For 30-second timeouts, VanDerveer gathered her team in a huddle on the court to convey her point. While never animated, VanDerveer always used the full time allotted to her to talk through points to her team.
Throughout her career, VanDerveer has stashed her timeouts. On Sunday, she could not help but to take one, when her team had allowed Cal to win the first five minutes of the third quarter 6-5. Stanford won the rest of the quarter 10-2.
Steding was responsible for scouting Cal, though VanDerveer still watched all of Cal’s games. VanDerveer, whose quote “I love being in the gym” seems apt for a coach in her 42nd season, also watched her own team’s games over and over.
Grading her team, VanDerveer would not give an A. She was trying to work on her rotations, especially by allowing the younger players to get minutes alongside veterans. What resulted was a game in which Stanford never trailed.
After the final whistle, a congratulatory message of Summitt and VanDerveer appeared on the Haas Pavilion scoreboard. When Stanford’s players clapped, VanDerveer motioned for them to leave the court.
“It’s something that’s been in the back of our heads since last year when the tournament was cancelled,” Belibi said. “It was always, ‘This many games until Tara has the record, until Tara ties the record.’ We’re all really excited and thankful that we have this opportunity to make it happen. We’re also honored to be a part of it and to be able to say that we helped to make it happen.”
To all of the people in VanDerveer’s sphere, she is a central figure. From the people who played for her to the freshmen that have been coached by her for the last six months, everyone can recognize her greatness, in every sense of the word.
“She’s just so supportive and she’s your biggest cheerleader,” said freshman forward Cameron Brink. “She’ll always tell you what to do better and she’s just the best coach I’ve ever played for, I’m really grateful for her.”
That the win meant joining the late Summitt at the top allowed VanDerveer to reflect on the friendship between the rivals. Stanford and Tennessee, where Summitt coached, have met for the last 32 years.
“We only play Tennessee because Jennifer Azzi came to Stanford and we’d promised Jennifer we’d play there like one year, not 25 years,” VanDerveer said. “To be like Pat is to be a coach that your players love playing for.”
Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.