STANFORD (AP) — Once heard, those beloved Tara-isms linger forever.
Tara VanDerveer’s sayings are so uniquely her, they stay with all the women she has coached, even years later. Recited and revered, they provide lessons in real life that reach far beyond basketball.
This week, VanDerveer’s former players are ready to shout her praises and cheer her catchphrases once more.
The Hall of Famer is on the cusp of history — again. About to join elite company — again.
On Friday night, VanDerveer is poised to become just the second NCAA women’s coach to enter the 1,000 wins club, alongside the late Pat Summitt. No. 8 Stanford will host USC at Maples Pavilion, where VanDerveer could treat the home crowd to a milestone moment.
She won No. 800 against former player and then-coach Jennifer Azzi at the University of San Francisco in December 2010 and then her 900th in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, during a 2013 Thanksgiving tournament.
“There’s just kind of a Tara voice,” Azzi said. “I don’t know that I could do it, but if you ask any former player what is the Tara voice, they will all know what that is. It can be kind of serious, a little bit sarcastic. A funny memory I have with her, she was always so intense at that time — I know she’s still got a very intense side, but I think she’s kind of mellowed out a little bit over the years — but we were playing in the regional final at Stanford and she got mad about something. ... She calls me over to the bench, she goes, ‘Jennifer, you go back out there and you tell your team to play defense now and celebrate later.’”
Azzi did just as told, and the Cardinal erupted in laughter.
“SOME DAYS YOU’RE THE DOG AND SOME DAYS YOU’RE THE HYDRANT” — Tara-ism
Jayne Appel-Marinelli thinks of that one whenever she needs a boost or reminder about her mood.
“That’s probably my favorite Tara-ism. It always turns my day around and it’s like, ‘Well, today is just a hydrant day and tomorrow may be the other,’” said Appel-Marinelli, recently retired from the WNBA and now working in New York for the players’ association.
“YOU ARE A FERRARI, QUIT DRIVING LIKE A VOLKSWAGEN” — Tara-ism
Not that VanDerveer can quite believe she is nearing another remarkable career achievement.
“I’m not old enough for that,” the 63-year-old coach said with a laugh. “I know it’s a big number. I can’t really believe that I’ve coached that many games.”
North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell could be the next to 1,000, then Geno Auriemma at Connecticut and perhaps Rutgers’ C. Vivian Stringer.
VanDerveer, in her 31st season at Stanford and 38th overall as a head coach with previous stops at Idaho and Ohio State, is admired throughout the basketball world for her thoughtful approach, detailed preparation and ability to adapt over the decades in the best interest of her current roster any given year.
She challenges her players and staff to reach their top level all while pushing herself personally and committing to be a lifelong learner. She took up piano, loves her sailboats, water skiing and geography. She takes great pride in never doing the same workout on consecutive days. She’s not shy about walking through Maples Pavilion in a bathrobe on the way to the Stanford pool to swim some pre-practice laps.
“Tara’s just very comfortable in who she is. There are no pretenses about Tara,” assistant coach and former player Kate Paye said. “More than anything, Tara teaches you as a player, as a coach, how to be. How to be as a person. How to be a mature, thoughtful, kind, hard-working, unselfish, goal-oriented person and teammate. I think that’s her greatest legacy.”
“QUIT STANDING AROUND OUT THERE LIKE A DECORATION, CHRISTMAS IS OVER” — Tara-ism
VanDerveer also has a clear vision of her program and its culture. Her first team meeting each season focuses on the message.
“This is who I am,” she tells the young women, “I’m not hard to play for. You must have positive body language and be a hard worker.”
VanDerveer coached Azzi and the Americans to Olympic gold at the Atlanta Games in 1996, captured two NCAA titles and guided so many stars. From Azzi, Kristin Folkl, Sonja Henning and Kate Starbird to Nicole Powell, Candice Wiggins, Appel-Marinelli and the Ogwumike sisters — Nneka and Chiney — to name just a few.
“It’s not about me. You win because you have great assistants, you have great talent and they buy into what you want to do,” she said. “That’s what’s important.”
“THE ‘S’ ON YOUR CHEST DOESN’T STAND FOR STUPID, IT STANDS FOR STANFORD, SO YOU BETTER ACT LIKE A STANFORD PLAYER” — Tara-ism
That means holding yourself to a high-class, high-achieving standard. Just as VanDerveer does.
Nearly two decades ago, it was VanDerveer who sent back a thoughtful, handwritten note to Lindsay Gottlieb when the current California coach wrote to every NCAA staff about her aspirations.
“The women’s game needs good people like you. Stick with it.”
Such kind gestures have gone a long way for Gottlieb and so many others fortunate enough to cross VanDerveer’s path — and she did more than that for Gottlieb, too. VanDerveer dished out an assist to her top rival: sending Gottlieb a player a few years back when Penina Davidson didn’t get into Stanford.
“Literally every time I look down the sideline when I coach against her I kind of have to pinch myself that she’s a legend of the game who I was writing a letter to that I was excited to get back,” Gottlieb said. “Here I am.”
“YOU WANT TO HAVE FUN? TRY WINNING. THAT’S FUN.” — Tara-ism
VanDerveer remains as motivated as ever.
In the summer of 2014, VanDerveer realized she needed to revamp her offense and go away from Stanford’s tried-and-true triangle with the departure of Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike. VanDerveer called in now-Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to help with a daunting process that had her “a little cranky.”
“Tara is one of the great basketball coaches, not only winning games but shaping people’s lives,” D’Antoni said. “The standard she has set can only be admired.”
Her ability to evolve is a big reason she keeps piling on wins, and having so much fun doing it — with an indefinite contract to boot.
“I think it’s a gift, I think it’s a vision,” said Amy Tucker, Stanford’s top assistant who played two years for VanDerveer at Ohio State as the Buckeyes became a Big Ten power. “She doesn’t marry herself to a system and say, ‘This is what I believe in, this is all I’m going to do.’”
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