Tara VanDerveer: A top college basketball coach

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It’s no secret that Tara VanDerveer is one of college basketball’s top coaches but what are the qualities that have led to her success?

“Demanding, very demanding, very direct, has high expectations, never satisfied. When I came to Stanford, I was a walk-on and trying out for the team consisted of participating in practice for three days, and after the first three days she pulled me aside and said, ‘Kate, I need to talk to you.’ And we went over to the corner stairwell in Maples which I still pass every single day and we sat down on the stairs and she said ‘Well, you made the team. But don’t be satisfied,'” Kate Paye, Stanford’s associate head coach, said.

Long before she became a coach, VanDerveer was a third grader who fell in love with a sport and at first, it didn’t love her back.

“There weren’t teams for girls. So they had like a boys league in the 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade, freshman, JV and varsity, and you know I had the boys’ gym teacher tell me ‘you’re the best basketball player in the 9th grade,’ but I couldn’t play on a team. And it was very frustrating, coaching wasn’t even a job, I majored in sociology, I planned to go to law school then title IX came about, and jobs came about, so my timing for playing was horrible, but my timing for coaching was really good,” VanDerveer said.

Vanderveer’s first head coaching job was at Idaho, followed by a stint at Ohio State. Then Stanford came calling.

“At first it was very challenging, the team was–it had had a losing record before I came, but I loved being at Stanford. Even though I believed we had a great athletic director, Andy Geiger had recruited me, and there was a lot of support from the athletic department and the university, and I believed that this could be a great program…our staff worked really hard a recruiting great players, Jennifer Azzi, Sonja Henning, Trisha Stevens, Val Whiting, and that group worked really hard they loved basketball, and I think we just had a great culture of hard work and teamwork, and they were a fun group to coach and a fun group to watch, and then we started winning, and it was really exciting,” VanDerveer said.

Stanford has scarcely stopped winning since — That includes 24 PAC-12 titles, 13 Final Four appearances, and two national championship wins.

“Tara is the common denominator in the incredible success for the past 30+ years, she’s really put Stanford women’s basketball, women’s basketball on the map especially here in the Bay Area, she’s an incredibly brilliant coach, a master of x’s and o’s, she incredibly hard-working, very competitive, she’s a great communicator and a great teacher, I’m not sure people really understand that she has a special and gifted way of communicating with young people, and evolving as times change and young people change and the culture changes,” Paye said.

“I was influenced by where I was at Indiana, and then I had the opportunity to coach internationally and travel all over the world and watch what really worked. I’m a copier, I watch, I watch the Warriors, I watch men’s college, women’s college, junior high, whatever. I’m always looking for ways that I can say this will help our team, so I don’t know, I’m a little bit of a basketball junkie, I will admit it,” VanDerveer said.

The basketball junkie is also among the winningest college coaches of them all, as one of only 10 D-1 coaches to reach the 1,000-win mark — Now at 1,067 but the numbers are just a fraction of the equation.

“Probably the absolute favorite thing is to see someone like Alanna Smith who came in as a young freshman, and now will graduate, and be drafted by the WNBA, play on her Olympic team, and have improved so much. So it’s players, it’s helping players get somewhere that they can’t get by themselves. That through coaching, and teaching the game and communicating with them you say, ‘this is where you are, this is where you could be, here’s where you are, this is where you can be,’ and they believe you, and they get up on that highwire, and take their game to the next level. The improvement people make, that’s what’s really exciting,” VanDerveer said.

“I think the biggest takeaway kind of watching Tara over the years is just integrity. The way she carries herself. It’s not what you do as important, but how you do is even more important, try to do things the right way, the right reasons, and working really hard every single day you do that,” Paye said.

It’s all led to a spot in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.

“It’s a tremendous honor, and I’m very excited. I had seen pictures of people in the airport and that kind of thing, and I had been to the dinner for Jennifer Azzi’s induction, and it’s something that I’m very honored, and it’s special because it’s your hometown people, it makes it really special when you’re part of–and what a great class, just the other people that are being inducted that evening, I’ll be excited to see them and to congratulate them, so I’m very honored,” VanDerveer said.

All Hall of Fame inductees will be honored this Thursday, May 2. VanDerveer will be honored alongside Dave Dravecky, Brad Gilbert, Keena Turner, and Jason Kidd.   

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