Before her 33rd year as the head coach of the Stanford women’s basketball team, the legendary Tara VanDerveer sat down in Maples Pavilion with Daily sports writer Daniel Martinez-Krams to answer some questions about the upcoming season.
Daniel Martinez-Krams (DMK): You are returning 12 players back from last year’s team that made its 11th-straight NCAA Sweet 16, and were recognized with a preseason AP ranking of seventh in the country. What is the ceiling for this team? What are your goals for the season?
Tara VanDerveer (TVD): You know, a lot depends on things like being healthy. Preseason rankings, that stuff is really irrelevant, it’s about being healthy. It’s about people really loving to play with each other and improving, and if we do those things, anything can happen. We’re playing a great schedule, we have great competition, and I think the sky’s the limit. We can have very high goals but we have to work hard, and if we continue to work really hard and improve, we can be a really great team.
DMK: After 32 years at Stanford, what gets you excited about each upcoming season?
TVD: I think the biggest thing is always putting together a new puzzle, because there’s new pieces, new players, and the enthusiasm that people have for playing, and how much they improve – it’s really fun to see a team improve. It’s fun to see players who love to play, and just get out there and play really hard with and for each other.
DMK: Last week, Marlene Bjornsrud and Julie Foudy were guests at the Gender & Sports speaker series discussing Title IX, and they were asked about how to advocate for more female coaches. They explicitly discussed the impact of your conscious decision to hire and train assistants that are then able to take on higher positions at other programs. What does this ability to impact future generations mean to you?
TVD: I think they probably pointed out that over the last 40 years a lot of women have left coaching. My assistants are female, and it gives them an opportunity to practice their craft at a really high level and then be ready for jobs if that’s what they choose to do, to move on to other head coaching positions, which people have done. I feel that part of my job is mentoring and we have young interns that go on, young assistants that go on, I try to do a good job for them.
DMK: How do you balance a calm demeanor and a competitive spirit?
TVD: Well I think that our team is probably really excited during the game, and it doesn’t do any good for me to get upset at the refs or scream at the players. I think I have to do what is going to help our team be successful, and there are times in the locker room when we need people to accept coaching and positive encouragement, but some criticism too. My very first coaching job was with my sister’s team, and I try to remember that every player on the team is my sister, and coach them like they are. I want them to do well; I’m excited for everyone when they do well, and it’s painful when someone doesn’t play well. You want them to play well. So you say, “Let’s get right back at it.”
DMK: Last year you were again near the top of the conference in defense, but lower in offense than in previous seasons. What do you attribute that to?
TVD: We did not shoot the ball as well as we wanted to, but we did have a great year, and we’re hoping that we’ll shoot the ball better this year. I think that people have put a lot of time into their game, and again what excites me the most is improvement, especially in our sophomore class. We’re very excited about our freshmen, they’re outstanding freshmen; I call the freshmen the triplets, and they’re doing awesome. What excites me a lot is the improvement of our sophomores, Maya [Dodson], Estella [Moschkau], Alyssa Jerome and Kiana [Williams]. Those four are going to really contribute to this year’s success. Obviously there is the excitement of Alanna [Smith]’s experience playing with her national team [Australia], Alyssa [Jerome] playing on the national team [Canada] and Jenna [Brown] playing with a national team [USA U18]. Their summer basketball experiences will bode well for us.
DMK: Kiana Williams was able to earn minutes and starts over the course of the season, and eventually lead the team from behind the arc. How does her role grow this year? Do you see any of the three freshmen with the ability to do that this year?
TVD: We’re not locked into a starting lineup. We could definitely have freshmen in our starting lineup. Whether it happens right away, you know they could, but right now it’s kind of a pack. I would say, Kiana and Alanna are kind of our returning numbers people in terms of scoring, and things like that, but we’re really counting on Nadia Fingall, we’re counting on all of our post players, Shannon Coffee, and we’re counting on the experience of Dijonai [Carrington] and I would say Anna [Wilson] is doing really well. No one on our team is doing poorly. Everyone is really putting themselves in a position where they could help us be successful. Everyone is going to have a different role, but they’re all doing extremely well.
DMK: Alanna Smith led or was near the team lead in nearly every category last year, and she was just named to the preseason All Pac-12. What do you expect her impact on the team to be this season?
TVD: She’s playing with a lot of confidence, and I hope she has a great senior year. She’s running the floor really well, shooting threes, gets on the block, and as always there’s things that we want her to do better, but I think she’s really focused and working very hard.
DMK: How are you approaching the preseason games?
TVD: Any time you’re keeping score and you’ve got refs you’re coming out to play hard and you want to see people improve. You want to see them play together and you want to see them building good habits. Each practice and each preseason game is an opportunity to build good habits.
DMK: Do you expect your starters for tomorrow’s game to match the starting lineup during the regular season?
TVD: We haven’t really talked to our team about a starting lineup. I am more interested in our finishing lineup than our starting lineup. Who is out there doing the right things throughout the game, and if we’re in a close game who’s out there at the end. The start of the race is not as important to me as the finish. We’re not locked into a set starting lineup; we’ll keep it open if someone is playing well. I read an article about the Golden State Warriors team that won the 1975 championship and basically whoever was playing well was going to be out there. The best thing about this team is because so many people are doing well, they’re ratcheting up the game for each other because if you come to practice and you don’t play hard, someone is going to pass you by. It’s extremely competitive in a very positive way. We’re really excited, and we’re looking forward to a great year.