Stanford coach VanDerveer sets wins record

Legendary Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer clinched her record-setting 1,203rd victory in an 11-point win against Oregon State. // Photo by Karl Mondon Bay Area News Group

Tara VanDerveer, Stanford’s women’s basketball coach, beat Oregon State 65-56 on Jan. 21 to bring their season record to 17-1. VanDerveer not only beat the Beavers but also knocked off one of the most impressive records in sports. VanDerveer notched her 1,203rd victory, the most in collegiate basketball history, overtaking the imperious Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

VanDerveer has been one of the greatest coaches in basketball history collecting numerous accolades including: three National Championships, 13 Final Four appearances, 14 Pac-12 championships, five national coach of the years, 10 Pac-12 coach of the year and one Olympic Gold Medal (won in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics). VanDerveer securing the record for the most wins in collegiate basketball did not change the way that people view her, but rather placed a cherry on top of an already extremely successful career. 

VanDerveer has been a pioneer in women’s basketball her whole career. She started off playing at Albany and, after a few successful seasons, she
transferred to Indiana. 

The reason VanDerveer chose Indiana was thanks to revolutionary work going on with the men’s team in Bloomington. Coach Bob Knight was just starting his tenure at Indiana with the men’s team and the results were already excellent. 

Outside of the results, VanDerveer was more interested in the way that he played the game and how he prepared his teams in such a successful manner. VanDerveer would take a lot of what she learned at Indiana with her throughout her career.

Once her playing career concluded, VanDerveer started off as an assistant at Ohio State University before coaching at the University of Idaho at Moscow. She led Idaho to two successful seasons before returning to Ohio State as head coach. VanDerveer promptly developed Ohio State into a basketball powerhouse and led the Buckeyes to the elite eight in her final year.

VanDerveer faced a lot of push back upon leaving Ohio State to coach at Stanford University. Many people surrounding VanDerveer worried about how academically rigorous Stanford is and feared that she wouldn’t be able to recruit the same caliber of recruit as she had at Ohio State. 

The academics at Stanford did not worry VanDerveer. The quality of education was the reason why she chose to go to Stanford over staying at Ohio State. VanDerveer wanted to set up the recruit that chose her with a world class education while lifting them as student-athletes. 

The years prior to VanDerveer’s arrival, Stanford had fallen down the pecking order, combining 14 wins over the two years prior with only 300 fans attending the games. In her first two years, VanDerveer hadn’t performed as she once had at Ohio State, but she was slowly building the program up. In VanDerveer’s third year as the Cardinal’s head coach, she had properly implemented her system and led Stanford to a 27-5 record while also securing the Cardinals their first NCAA tournament invitation in six years.

VanDerveer’s success at Stanford would continue to dominate for over three decades and secured a NCAA tournament invitation in each of those years. Under VanDerveer’s watch, Stanford has become a three-time national champion as well as 14-time PAC-12 champion. VanDerveer has turned Stanford into one of the greatest women’s basketball programs of all time and has molded the program after herself.

VanDerveer turned what many considered to be a weakness into a strength with regards to the education that Stanford provides. VanDerveer thought of her players as true student-athletes, molding her players into people that could become successful when their playing days would eventually come to an end. 

Not only would VanDerveer empower her players academically and athletically, she would also give her players a chance to prosper personally. VanDerveer let her players take control when needed but also told them what to do when she knew better. 

VanDerveer’s methods have spread much wider than the campus in Paolo Alto. VanDerveer’s coaching tree is one of the most influential in college basketball as a whole. VanDerveer has produced 12 head coaches from people that either played for her or coached alongside her during her highly successful tenure. 

Not only did VanDerveer transform college basketball, but she played an instrumental role in turning USA Basketball into the juggernaut it is today. Prior to VanDerveer’s appointment as head coach in 1995, USA basketball would only come together a few times a year, which led to practice time being extremely limited. 

In an effort to make the team more cohesive, VanDerveer asked for the team to stay together all year in order to prepare for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. VanDerveer would put together one of the most dominant winning streaks in basketball history. USA basketball would win 52 straight games leading up to the Olympics, leading to very high expectations for the home nation. 

VanDerveer and the US did not waver in Atlanta. They plowed through the competition with the closest game being a 17-point victory over Australia. Team USA would secure the gold medal with a 24-point win over Brazil. VanDerveer would end her tenure as head coach of USA basketball with a perfect 60-0 record before returning to Stanford.

Coach VanDerveer has one of the most impressive resumes in the history of sports. Overtaking Krzyzewski in wins is a significant moment, but the record is merely a cherry on top of what is a historically great career. Coach VanDerveer did not merely transform Stanford and USA Basketball, but rather women’s
basketball as a whole.