STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Tara VanDerveer has never coached for the milestones or anything else that brings attention to her rather than the players she loves to lead.
That’s why the Hall of Fame Stanford coach is thrilled her latest memorable moment will probably happen in Mexico this week with little fanfare, away from the sports-crazed Bay Area and her program’s loyal fan base at Maples Pavilion.
“That’s fine with me,” VanDerveer said. “I’m fine just kind of being the person behind the scenes.”
VanDerveer can become the fifth women’s basketball coach to reach 900 victories as early as Wednesday against Florida Gulf Coast in Puerto Vallarta. She stands at 898 wins as the sixth-ranked Cardinal (4-1) prepare to first face Purdue in the Hardwood Tournament of Hope on Tuesday.
VanDerveer would join the exclusive company of Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt, C. Vivian Stringer and Sylvia Hatchell in the 900 wins club. Many figure VanDerveer will coach long enough to reach 1,000.
“Nine hundred wins is just such an incredible number, an unbelievable achievement,” California coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “But what’s even more impressive to me, now that I have a close up view of Tara in action, is the remarkable way she prepares her team. She has done so much to advance women’s basketball.”
VanDerveer feels the same way about many of the successful coaches around her, both Stanford colleagues and women’s coaches throughout the country who help keep her motivated. She received an indefinite contract extension this summer, meaning she can stay on The Farm as long as she wants to keep doing this. This is VanDerveer’s 35th season overall as a Division I head coach and 28th at Stanford.
“I’d have to be 500 years old to get to 900 wins,” Cal Poly coach Faith Mimnaugh quipped earlier this month.
Not that VanDerveer (898-204) is counting — except that she keeps getting asked about the feat. She is 746-153 at Stanford.
She also spent two seasons at Idaho, her first time as a head coach, then five at Ohio State.
VanDerveer started coaching her younger sister, Marie, per her father’s request if she wanted to keep living at home. She has learned from coaching sister Heidi, too.
At the beginning, VanDerveer sent letters to the top 20 college programs in the country. She wound up at Ohio State as a volunteer coach of the junior varsity team.
Those Buckeyes went 8-0, which she counts as one of her two undefeated teams along with the 1996 American Olympic gold medalists.
There have been many more winning teams since, though the Cardinal haven’t captured a national championship since 1992 despite five recent trips to the Final Four, a run that ended last season.
“There’s so much to learn about the game of basketball. I’m a gym rat, a television rat,” said VanDerveer, who often switches between a Golden State Warriors NBA game or the Stanford men’s team. “I’ve always been kind of just someone that’s very intrigued by the strategy of basketball and watching other sports. That’s the kind of puzzle I like to put together, I like to put team puzzles together. The strategy of basketball is what’s really motivating, and then seeing kids improve.”
VanDerveer won No. 800 on Dec. 22, 2010, so plenty of people figure she will get to 1,000, perhaps only a few years down the road.
“Oh yeah, we’re going to get it,” reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike said. “I was part of the 800th win at USF. That was a fun moment. It’s another target out there, you know what, my senior year, let’s get coach 900. I think she’ll hit 1,000, too. I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m calling it now.”
VanDerveer turned 60 in June and figures she has more years in her, though she prefers to re-evaluate her future at the end of each season.
“I’m going to coach as long as it’s something I really enjoy doing,” she said. “If I have a million games in me I’ll coach a million games. I personally have a lot of other interests. As much as I love coaching, it’s not the end-all, be-all of my life.”
In fact, she almost became a lawyer. Nowadays, she loves playing the piano and playing with her dogs.
“She’s a legacy, she has an amazing legacy,” Washington State coach June Daugherty said. “She has mentored so many of us. I don’t think she gets enough of her due for what she’s done for Stanford basketball — Pac-8, Pac-10, Pac-12. She’s been innovative about her game. She is a first-class act.”
VanDerveer has adapted in everything from offensive schemes to how she deals with the young women, and even using social media.
“She is very visionary,” said Arizona State coach Charli Turner Thorne, who played four years for VanDerveer at Stanford. “She’s never really gotten too set in her ways. She’s redefined her team and made adjustments. You have to, and it shows in her level of success.”