Tara VanDerveer thought of her parents, of her past and present players, and of the fellow coaching legend whose milestone she passed.
No. 1 Stanford’s 104-61 victory over Pacific on Tuesday was the 1,099th of VanDerveer’s career, giving her the most wins in Division I women’s college basketball history.
She was handed the game ball afterward and then given a new jacket, featuring the nickname “T-Dawg,” by her celebrating players.
“It’s just been a great journey,” VanDerveer said. “I really hope Pat Summitt is looking down and saying, ‘Good job, Tara. Keep it going.’ I loved coaching against Pat, and we miss her.”
VanDerveer passed the late Summitt, whose legendary career at Tennessee ended prematurely in 2012 after she was diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Summitt, who had 1,098 career wins, died in 2016.
VanDerveer, 67, began her college coaching career at Idaho in 1978, and she took over in 1985 at Stanford, where she has recorded 947 of her wins. She has won two NCAA titles, advanced to 11 other Final Fours, won or shared 23 Pac-12 regular-season titles and won 13 of the 19 league tournaments that have been held.
She has coached some of the greatest players in the sport. Those include Jennifer Azzi, who helped lead the Cardinal to their first NCAA title in 1990, four-time All-American Candice Wiggins, Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, and a team this season that has started 5-0 and looks to be a strong Final Four contender.
Even though Stanford is undefeated, this season has had its challenges. Because of COVID-19 protocol in Santa Clara County that banned indoor activities including contact sports, Stanford had to relocate to Las Vegas for practice and to play two of its games so far. Sunday’s record-tying win came against Cal in Berkeley. Tuesday’s win was in Stockton, California, with no fans.
But there were video messages of congratulations to VanDerveer from famous Stanford alumni such as Condoleezza Rice and John Elway, and from a fellow women’s sports pioneer, tennis legend Billie Jean King.
“To have a shout-out from her … I mean, I have to pinch myself,” VanDerveer said of King. “I’m happy to be part of the growth of women’s basketball and support the Women’s Sports Foundation and legacy fund that is in my name to help promote women in coaching.”
Another cause VanDerveer brought up in her postgame videoconference call was hunger; she said with all the good fortune she’s experiencing, she is well aware many are suffering now. She’s donating $10 for each of her 1,099 victories to a local food bank.
Gratitude is a primary emotion that VanDerveer has been feeling during the run-up to this record. She has heard from many colleagues and former players. Her current team is grateful to be the one that helped her reach this mark.
“The very first phone call we had, I remember how nervous I was,” said Stanford senior Kiana Williams of the recruiting process. “I was pacing up and down my hallway. My dad was telling me to sit down. I’m like, ‘I’m talking to Tara VanDerveer.'”
An East Coast native who went to college at Indiana and used to watch Bob Knight’s practices, VanDerveer has built the Cardinal into the crown jewel program of the West Coast. She has won 81.3% of her games, with just 253 losses. In Pac-12 play, VanDerveer is 512-82 (86.2%). She would have gotten this milestone earlier, except she stepped away from Stanford’s 29-3 Final Four season in 1995-96 to coach the U.S. national team, which won gold at the 1996 Olympics.
“Basketball always has been and always will be a great team sport,” VanDerveer said. “This might be a record that has Tara VanDerveer’s name next to it, but it is about the athletic directors that hired me and gave me a chance. Great, great, great assistant coaches that have worked extremely hard for our program. And it’s about having great players.
“I’ve never been the best player of a team I’ve ever played on. I don’t consider myself some John Wooden Jr. coach. But I’m determined, I work hard, and I love this game of basketball. And I really, really love coaching young women and helping them get better.”
It was no surprise that VanDerveer thought of her friend Summitt right after Tuesday’s game. The coaches were born just a year apart: Summitt in June 1952 and VanDerveer in June 1953. Summitt began her college coaching career at Tennessee in 1974, and VanDerveer started at Idaho in 1978. Their teams began a series in 1988, thanks to Azzi being a Tennessee native, and the coaches met three times in the NCAA tournament, all won by Tennessee.
VanDerveer said she improved by coaching against Summitt.
“She helped me do it because of playing against her teams,” VanDerveer said. “Something that I learned from Pat was just to be passionate about the game. I…