Sally Jenk­ins on Coach Tara VanDerveer, a Stan­ford ed­u­ca­tor with 1,000 wins.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Sally Jenk­ins sally.jenk­ins@wash­ For more by Sally Jenk­ins, visit wash­ing­ton­­ins.

Turn away, for a mo­ment, from all the noise. Press mute on the yam­mer­ers and huck­sters and at­tend in­stead, if only briefly, to some­one who “doesn’t live life very loudly,” in the words of a for­mer star player, and who there­fore snuck up on a thou­sand vic­to­ries al­most un­heard and un­no­ticed. A thou­sand vic­to­ries. Just two coaches in the his­tory of col­le­giate bas­ket­ball have won so many games: Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and the late great Pat Sum­mitt of Ten­nessee. And now Tara VanDerveer of Stan­ford joins them.

VanDerveer is what the NCAA should be — as op­posed to the pools of muck pop­u­lated by coverup artists and ac­ces­sories to crime it has be­come in some quar­ters. She works on the other side of the NCAA from all that, in the women’s game, in which a four-year schol­ar­ship is still lifeal­ter­ing and a coach can cling to the an­tique idea that “model­ing good be­hav­ior should be the fo­cus of our job, not just win­ning games,” as VanDerveer once put it.

For 38 years, she has prac­ticed ex­actly that, man­aged to be both ed­u­ca­tor and win­ner, with two NCAA ti­tles and 11 Fi­nal Fours and an Olympic gold medal, too. On Fri­day night, she reached the 1,000-win plateau when No. 8 Stan­ford beat South­ern Cal, 5842. On Mon­day night, she will go for 1,001 on ESPN2 against No. 13 UCLA, so do your­self a fa­vor and watch her. Watch how all-time great­ness can re­side in­side of such ret­i­cence.

“She’s bril­liant; she’s just not a loud per­son out blow­ing her horn,” for­mer player Jen­nifer Azzi said. “She just does her job.”

In her starched col­lars and muted gray suits and spec­ta­cles, she looks like the lawyer she might have been and the chess ex­pert and clas­si­cal pi­anist she is. She’s known for low-key de­mands that her play­ers call “Tara-isms,” such as “You’re a Fer­rari; quit driv­ing like a Volk­swa­gen.” Or: “That ‘S’ on your chest stands for ‘Stan­ford,’ not ‘Stupid,’ so play like it.”

Yet she has the steel and court wits to match any­one. She’s the only per­son in this era to con­sis­tently break the grip of Sum­mitt and Geno Auriemma and hand them losses on big oc­ca­sions. In 2008, she ousted Con­necti­cut from the Fi­nal Four, and in 2010, she busted its 90game win­ning streak. Her great friend Sum­mitt both loved and dreaded play­ing her.

“She’s go­ing to poke holes in us,” Sum­mitt used to say, winc­ing.

Un­der­stand this about VanDerveer’s re­mark­able ca­reer: She was al­most en­tirely self­taught. There were no coach­ing trees in women’s bas­ket­ball as she came up, no camps and clin­ics and men­tors. In­stead, she picked up the trade by watch­ing from the mar­gins, study­ing Bobby Knight when she was a player at In­di­ana, slip­ping court­side be­tween her own prac­tices and so­ci­ol­ogy classes. She signed up for his coach­ing class and en­rolled in one of his clin­ics, the only woman sur­rounded by 500 guys.

Af­ter suc­cess­ful early coach­ing stops at Idaho and Ohio State, she ar­rived at Stan­ford in 1985 and promptly flipped a mis­er­able pro­gram that played in empty are­nas into a na­tional fac­tor.

“We had no fans,” Azzi re­mem­bered. “They didn’t even pull the bleach­ers out when we played.”

By 1990, she had led the Car­di­nal to a na­tional cham­pi­onship, and she re­peated that feat in 1992.

The 1,000th vic­tory is all the more re­mark­able be­cause it comes de­spite a sig­nif­i­cant, al­beit short, gap. VanDerveer in­ter­rupted her dy­nasty­build­ing to take a year-long sab­bat­i­cal to coach the 1996 U.S. Olympic team, lead­ing Dawn Sta­ley, Lisa Les­lie and com­pany to an epic 60-0 record, in­clud­ing eight wins and a gold medal in the At­lanta Games. It was an act of gen­eros­ity that re­sulted in the birth of the WNBA, while cost­ing her and her Stan­ford pro­gram its mo­men­tum. She slowly re­built.

Over the years since, VanDerveer has fash­ioned a pro­gram that ri­vals U-Conn. and Ten­nessee for its own kind of pow­er­ful chic. Stan­ford is a reg­u­lar power in the NCAA tour­na­ment — with five straight Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ances from 2008 to 2012 — yet VanDerveer never acted like the book bags on her play­ers’ backs were too heavy.

“She’s ac­tu­ally drawn to the aca­demic piece, the rig­ors,” Azzi said.

The pro­gram has an odd brand of swag­ger, born of play­ers such as Chiney Og­wu­mike win­ning all-Amer­i­can sta­tus while ma­jor­ing in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and tak­ing semesters abroad. It’s an aura that at­tracts in­ter­est­ing bene­fac­tors from Stan­ford’s Sil­i­con Val­ley fan base; it’s not un­usual to see Con­doleezza Rice or Sh­eryl Sand­berg court­side.

VanDerveer didn’t set out to be that kind of fem­i­nist pi­o­neer­builder. She just set out to be a teacher, “to maybe take play­ers to a place they couldn’t get by them­selves,” she told ESPN on Fri­day. “Do some­thing they couldn’t do on their own.”

The essence of her coach­ing is this un­selfish­ness. Her teams are known for their eye-pleas­ing re­liance on col­lab­o­ra­tion; there is no drift­ing or free­lanc­ing but rather what she calls “pur­pose­ful” ac­tion. She is li­able to give a film ses­sion — and then air a sym­phony and ask her play­ers to lis­ten to the parts and un­der­stand how they com­bine to be­come mu­sic. Or she might say, “Take your fin­gers. How do they be­come a fist?”

There is some­thing pro­foundly grat­i­fy­ing and more than a lit­tle cleans­ing about the fact that such a purely mo­ti­vated, nat­u­ral-born in­struc­tor can flour­ish in to­day’s NCAA. Much less to the tune of 1,000 vic­to­ries. And, un­sur­pris­ingly, other peo­ple are mak­ing more out of that bench­mark than VanDerveer is her­self.

“I think we might be more ex­cited about it than she is,” Azzi said. If it means any­thing, VanDerveer told ESPN, it’s that “it sets a higher stan­dard. And I want to be up for that.”

Azzi didn’t ex­pect VanDerveer would do much in the way of cel­e­brat­ing the achieve­ment.

“I just hope she can take a breath at some point,” Azzi said, “and stand in the empty arena and go ‘Wow.’ ”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.