One day in ninth grade, Tara VanDerveer was playing basketball – like most days growing up in New York state – when her father stopped the ricochet, ricochet, ricochet and ordered her into the house. He wanted her to work on what he found less trivial: her math homework.
“Basketball will never get you anywhere,” he told her.
VanDerveer would never speak to her father again, but privately she stewed.
“Algebra,” she thought, “will never get me anywhere.”
This lifelong infatuation with the round orange ball has taken VanDerveer to many places: around the world (from where she dropped her father’s postcards), across the country to Stanford University for the past 35 years and into the basketball hall of Fame.
She’ll be taken to an even rarer place on Tuesday night, when a Stanford Pacific win set VanDerveer the record for most coaching victories in college basketball for women, putting her past Pat Summitt’s 1,098 career wins, all for that University of Tennessee. If the win doesn’t arrive on Tuesday for some unexpected reason, it will almost certainly take place in Stanford’s next game or game after that.
That the milestone will be dampened by the pandemic – achieved in a newly planned game, in an almost empty arena and with masked coaches and bench players sitting on folding chairs socially far away – as befits VanDerveer, who has always felt comfortable with one Whistle and an empty gym, but less the center of attention.
If some contemporaries, like the sinister Summitt who died in 2016, or the media savvy Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who started the season with seven wins behind Summitt and three behind VanDerveer, make outstanding numbers on the sidelines, VanDerveer doesn’t . She often watches attentively as she plays from her seat, as if trying to work some quadratic equation in her head.
“I like to be on the practice range and get to know the people on my team,” VanDerveer said in a telephone interview. “I don’t need a lot of strokes.”
On Tuesday evening she added, “If our team is successful, a record will be set and I will get up the next day and ride this peloton. I won’t get a day off. And I hope that our country will get one step closer to health and that things can return to normal. “
College basketball, for both men and women, has evolved like a teenager learning to drive with a clutch for the time being. Hundreds of games were postponed, canceled or postponed on the fly.
Few programs have been as badly affected as Stanford’s teams, which left Santa Clara County after health officials banned games and exercises there in late November. The Cardinal Women recently spent 10 days in Las Vegas. The players, coaches, and other staff wore masks outside their hotel rooms, ate takeaway meals (sometimes they sat outside in a hotel courtyard), got back to front on buses, were tested daily, and their temperatures were taken each time they were in one Arrived hotel gym for a workout or game.
After Tuesday’s game against Pacific in Stockton, California, Stanford’s team will head to Los Angeles on Wednesday, where they will play Southern California on Saturday and UCLA on Monday. From there, it will travel to Arizona for a game on New Years Day. There is no plan to play a home game until January 8th.
“I’m not convinced we’re doing the right thing,” said VanDerveer, who trains with a megaphone so the players can hear her through their mask. “We are street fighters, but we cannot be street fighters. We are not nomads. “
She wondered if it wouldn’t make sense to pause the season with the anticipated flood of new cases. The extensive security measures have worried her players, she said, but so has the prospect of not returning home for Christmas. But there is also a joy of practicing and playing that should be taken into account – and why should their players be discouraged when they adhere to health protocols so carefully?
“We’re torn,” said VanDerveer. “Yes, we want to play. And yes, in our brains we know that it is probably safer not to travel around. But we can’t be the outlier. There is a kind of cognitive dissonance. We know it’s not for the best, but we do it because everyone else is. “
The bubbly quality of the game was evident in the otherwise pedestrian game on Sunday evening over winless California, when Stanford student Francesca Belibi casually dropped a one-handed dunk after a theft – the first by a woman in a college game since 2013.
VanDerveer preferred this moment to the immediate aftermath of the game as she led her players towards the locker room after dancing and cheering around them in what made a humble spectacle.
At 68, she’s not sure how much longer she wants to train.
She is enthusiastic about Stanford’s recruits and notes that she will occasionally look up the ages of Krzyzewski (73) and Jim Boeheim (76) and said: “I have a lot of profile on my tire.” But her curiosity was also evident through a conversation Muffet McGraw, who retired earlier this year after a stellar career at Notre Dame. “I asked her how it is on the other side?” VanDerveer said. “She says, ‘Tara, it’s great.’ I think wow. “
If it’s hard to imagine some coaches doing anything else, VanDerveer doesn’t.
She learned to play the piano in middle age. She and her 93-year-old mother Rita play bridge on a laptop for an hour every day. She tries to walk her dogs every day when she is at home. She swims by the Stanford pool (without blinking when Olympic gold medalists Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel are on the next lane) and spent 93 days waterskiing at her vacation home in Chautauqua, NY this summer
She probably won’t give up coaching when it becomes a chore, she said, but when there isn’t enough time for anything else. But these are considerations for another day.
Right now, she is preparing her players for the next game and trying hard to make the season so fun that players don’t want it to end. She uses every platform she has as a result of her latest milestone to encourage donations to food banks. “People are suffering,” said VanDerveer. “It’s hard to celebrate and enjoy something like a basketball game compared to people’s lives.”
She said she would start with her own promise to a local food bank. She hasn’t settled on a number yet – maybe $ 10 per win. She’s still working on the math.