Growing Up With Stanford Women's Basketball

Truly great players don't come along every day. Women's Basketball Contributing Columnist Warren Grimes provides us with a feel-good piece, sharing the fun experience of bonding with his young daughter while enjoying the incredible career of Everybody's All-American Candice Wiggins. Hopefully this will inspire Stanford fans everywhere to fully appreciate CW's final season in a Cardinal uniform.

Growing Up With Stanford Women's Basketball: 

[How "CW" Became A Family Favorite]

My oldest daughter ("GG") was six years old when I took her to Pauley Pavilion to see her first basketball game. It was the Stanford women against UCLA. Some things don't change. Even back in 1995, it was VanDerveer against Olivier. Even then, it was UCLA's quickness against Stanford's disciplined defense and offense. The game was close, but Stanford, led by Jamila Wideman and Kate Starbird, squeezed by with a two-point victory. GG liked all of the Stanford players, but Charmin Smith became a particular favorite, perhaps because Smith had attended my high school in suburban St. Louis. For an impressionable young girl, the die was cast. She went on to post pictures of Stanford players in her room, collect autographs, and even exchange e-mails with Chelsea Trotter. Over the next 12 years, GG accompanied me to eight different basketball venues to see Stanford play. We have been to virtually every Southern California game the team has played, and a few up North. We have watched many a game together in front of the TV. Now, as she is completing applications to attend college next year, she is certain to remain a Stanford fan, even if she ends up at Poughkeepsie Tech or Underhanded U. As far as I am concerned, GG has grown up all too quickly. But we've had a fine run. We've seen great players do great things, including Milena Flores hitting a buzzer beater from the half court line, Jamie Cary hitting a flurry of threes, Kristin Folkl performing her stratospheric wonders, and Nicole Powell doing a bit of everything. One game that sticks in my mind was against a Tina Thompson-led USC at the Lyon Center. That place is a postage stamp, second-story gym, a flawed venue for college basketball. But it is loud, intimate, and engrossing - what happens on the floor really sticks with you. On that Sunday afternoon, Charmin Smith played the point for most of the game (Wideman was out with an ankle sprain) and Kate Starbird played through tasteless USC cheers and lit up the scoreboard with 40 points. USC fought back and kept the game close. It was a nail-biter. As the clock wound down and the noise ramped up, Thompson had the ball and the shot to win the game. Well defended, Thompson missed. The ball rimmed out, Starbird grabbed it, and the game was over. Stanford won 77-76. GG, then seven years old, loved it.

To single out one player that GG and I have admired over the past twelve years is difficult. We love them all. But there is that special thing about senior Candice Wiggins. In the Winter of 2004, we were sitting in the cheap seats at Pauley Pavilion, watching Stanford once again take on UCLA. With Nicole Powell leading the way, Stanford eked out a narrow victory. But we were equally fascinated by the three young ladies sitting in front of us. Deep into the second half, with UCLA rallying, Powell missed the front end of a one-and-one. GG gave out the signature ear-piercing scream of a fourteen-year-old. Surprisingly to me, one of the young ladies in front of us responded to the death-scream by turning around and giving my daughter this wonderful, radiant smile. Yes, despite my conviction at the time that she was too slender and delicate to be a world-class basketball player, that turned out to be Candice Wiggins. She was a high school senior, signor of a letter of intent and wearing a Stanford sweatshirt, and just as friendly and outgoing then as she is now. She gave GG an autograph before we left Pauley. Beginning in the Fall of 2004, we have frequently watched "CW" on TV and occasionally in person. CW is an unfailing fan favorite. As every Stanford fan knows, Candice is talented, quick, a prolific three-point shooter, a fierce competitor, and someone who radiates intensity and an exuberant smile that inspires teammates and delights everyone in the arena.

In the Spring of 2005, my daughter and I made the trek up to Fresno to watch a first round NCAA game between Stanford and Santa Clara. Stanford was strongly favored. But there were some nerves. It was Wiggins' first game in the NCAA tournament. Stanford fans needn't have worried. Candice came to play that day, racking up 29 points in 27 minutes. There were thefts, slashes, length-of-the-court drives, three-pointers, and many winning smiles. As I recall it, late in the first half, or maybe it was early in the second half, CW had equaled or exceeded all of the points scored by the Santa Clara team. She was simply phenomenal that day. Two kindly ladies sitting next to GG were flabbergasted, amazed, and delighted. They had never seen Wiggins play before, but they liked what they saw and wanted much more. So did we. But Coach VanDerveer wisely and appropriately took CW out of the game for most of the second half. The tournament had just begun. Later at those same NCAAs, GG and I, joined by other family members, sat in front of the TV to watch the Cardinal play UConn in the Sweet Sixteen game. CW was not dominant, but showed her mettle, making a couple of late second-half three pointers that ended UConn hopes. Am I imagining this, or does she almost always shoot best when it matters most? Bye bye, Geno! GG and I had a cheery disposition for the next two days (until Michigan State). 

Then there was CW against Arizona State. Pick your game, CW always seems to have a huge impact against that tenacious team. Perhaps it's because ASU plays intense, in- your-face defense against perimeter players. CW seems to thrive on that - it's slice and dice time! In the most recent game against ASU (the 2007 Pac-10 tournament final), ASU made a splendid comeback from 20 points down to cut the lead to a basket, with a minute or so remaining. So who stepped up to squelch the momentum? Of course, it was Candice, blocking an ASU shot and, a few seconds later, stealing the ball to seal the Stanford victory. Coach VanDerveer has hit the nail on the head. CW cannot be allowed to be a senior. Can the Admissions Office admit her all over again? Can't some Stanford Nobel Laureate figure out a way to stop the clock? Whatever her status, my daughter and I will enjoy watching our hero work her CW magic again this year. Things will be different in the Fall of 2008 - No GG at home and no CW at Maples. I guess I'll have to find some way to cope. Bring it on.

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