Barber: Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer thriving at 66
“I water skied over a hundred days this past summer,” Tara VanDerveer said, indirectly speaking to anyone who might wonder whether the exalted Stanford women’s basketball coach is, you know, slowing down a little bit at the age of 66.
VanDerveer spends her summers back East, at the family home in upstate New York. She still goes pretty hard at scouting and recruiting, but for VanDerveer, basketball is not a 365-day-a-year pursuit.
“When I’m here, I’m into it and it’s fresh and I’m excited,” she said. “But we do it differently at Stanford. I mean, I don’t require summer school. I want people to be really excited about what they’re doing when they’re doing it, and not make it a job — a J-O-B job.”
Of course, now the Cardinal women have a real job to do. They lost to Texas on Sunday, their first stumble of the year, and have fallen to No. 5 in the AP rankings after spending three weeks in the top spot.
Still, this looks like a bounce-back season for VanDerveer’s program. And VanDerveer probably has a little bounce in her step these days.
There was a time when that hardly would have rated as news. Stanford has fielded one of college basketball’s most dominant programs for decades, ever since VanDerveer arrived in 1985. But No.1? It has been a while. Before the Cardinal moved into the top spot on Dec. 2, the last time they visited that locale was Dec. 24, 2012.
Seven years is a long time in college sports — a couple generations of rotating student- athletes. And it’s an especially long time in Palo Alto, where VanDerveer has racked up 925 wins (the bulk of her career total of 1,077, which is second only to Pat Summitt in the sport’s history), 31 NCAA tournament appearances, 13 Final Fours and two national championships.
This team could add to VanDerveer’s legacy. It’s one of the most intriguing she’s had in years.
Not a single Cardinal player made the 2019-20 preseason All-American team, not even in the Also Receiving Votes category. It’s possible none of them will be there at the end of the season, either. No Stanford player currently appears among the Pac-12’s top 11 scorers, top 25 rebounders, top 10 assist dishers or top 10 shot blockers.
What VanDerveer has is one of the deepest rosters ever to wear the Stanford colors. Nine different players have started games so far in this young season. Eleven players are averaging 13 minutes or more. Eight are averaging more than 5 points per game.
As highly regarded as VanDerveer is in this profession, she sort of needed a season like this.
At the start of this decade, Stanford finished No. 2 in the rankings for three consecutive years (2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12). That was pretty much the paradigm for a really good West Coast program that existed in the same universe as peak UConn and Brittney Griner-era Baylor, teams that were virtually unbeatable.
Since then, Stanford’s shine had gradually diminished. The Cardinal finished the 2012-13 season ranked No. 4. The next year they were No. 6. They fell to No. 14 in 2014-15 and No. 13 in 2015-16. Stanford bounced back to occupy the No. 6 ranking in 2016-17, then dropped to No. 15 in 2017-18. VanDerveer’s team was No. 7 last year.