"Room Without A View": Amy Tucker
A Cardinal Not-So-Quick Chat with Stanford Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker
The 2007-08 season is the 23rd for Stanford Associate Head Coach Amy Tucker, who has helped guide the Cardinal to two NCAA Championships, six Final Fours, and numerous Pac-10 titles. In 1995-96, when she served as interim head coach and led the Cardinal to a perfect 18-0 Pac-10 record and the 1996 NCAA Final Four, Tucker was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year and United Press International National Coach of the Year. Recently, she sat down in her neat, well-appointed, but oddly windowless office for an impromptu chat with TheBootleg.com.
Regarding the progress of the Cardinal, who currently sport a 7-1 record, Tucker said, "We've played an extremely tough schedule. Given the schedule and the competition, I think we've done very well. The only frustrating thing for the team and for our staff has been our injuries. We've been able to bring our young players along, getting significant time for our freshmen. They are all in the rotation, so that's a very positive thing. We know we have a ways to go in terms of our offense and getting people to shoot the ball a little bit better, but I think that will come, too, when we maybe don't have quite the schedule - if we're not playing a Rutgers or a Connecticut, we can live with some people's mistakes a little bit, as they get used to the college game." Tucker feels the 2007-08 schedule is "by far the toughest schedule we have ever had. Then we add the travel to it, which has been very tough - opening on the road, going to the Virgin Islands, which was a very long trip for our team. It's all been good though, for our development as a team."
The Cardinal lost to Connecticut (66-54) in the Virgin Islands by getting down early, fighting their way back, but never managing to get close enough to make it interesting at the end. That 12-point margin of victory is the closest anyone has come to staying with what is shaping up to be a very powerful Connecticut team. Tucker explained, "We had good shots early. We didn't hit them, so we got into a hole, but then we steadily worked our way out of it a little bit. Connecticut is as deep and as talented a team as we're going to see all season. Our game plan against Connecticut, which maybe not a lot of people recognized, was to not take quick shots. The idea was not to give them the ball back right away because they just come at you in waves, and they want to go as hard and as fast as they can. That's exactly what they did to Old Dominion, beating them by 40! ODU took quick shots and gave them the ball back right away. Duke did the same thing and lost by 26. So in a lot of ways, what we did was smart, but we just didn't capitalize on our offensive end by hitting some early shots."
Injuries to Cardinal forwards Michelle Harrison (out for the season with an ACL tear) and Ashley Cimino (out until at least January with a back injury) have depleted the post rotation and forced some changes. "Jillian [Harmon] has moved into the "4" rotation because of Michelle's injury and Ashley's injury. We need her depth there. By not starting Jillian, we're able to put her in the rotation without foul trouble. We can't afford Jill to be at the "3", Kayla [Pedersen] at the "4", and Jayne [Appel] at the "5", and pick up any fouls - it changes our rotation right away. This allows for some leeway. We have more perimeter players than post players. And we have tweaked our offense, so our "4" stays more into the elbow/block area. They don't go out on the wing the way they used to do in our triangle offense. That's to keep them closer to the basket, three-point shooting not being Jill's or Kayla's primary weapon. It keeps them closer where they can attack the basket and be passers high and low to Jayne."
Long-range shooting showed improvement against UC-Davis, but is still an area of concern. "Shooting is such a mental thing", says Tucker, "when you're not shooting well, it seems to snowball a little bit. Our message to our team is that they need to get into the gym and put in time on their shot. There is no magic pill we can give them to improve their shooting. Once a team starts to sag off and [our Cardinal players] miss their first or second shot, they start to think about it. We're going to dictate based on their percentage who gets shots early in the offense. They need to help themselves by getting in the gym and doing extra work."
TheBootleg.com asked Tucker to describe her duties as Associate Head Coach. "I have been a recruiting coordinator for 21 years now. I have worked with our post players, our wing players, and our guards - you work with everybody, but I've primarily been with the posts for a while. I am our liaison to admissions, working with our admissions staff. Of course, we all have major recruiting responsibilities. We all recruit. We all evaluate. I just coordinate our schedules - who does what, who is recruiting whom."
Recruiting at Stanford, with its rigorous admissions standards, can be challenging. Tucker said, "There is no back door into Stanford. Everyone comes through the front door of admissions. Everyone has to apply. Athletes apply just like every other student. I look at our admissions as a ballpark. We have some kids, and this is for the student body as well, that are on the pitcher's mound; some kids are in the infield; some kids are in the outfield, based on their GPA, strength of transcript, and test scores. If they are in the parking lot, they are not going to get in, and these are the kids we try to eliminate early, before they even go through the admissions process. We look at transcripts and say this is not a fit. But having said that, I think Stanford views athletic ability just like they would musical ability or an academic ability - as a strength or 'special skill'. So their athletic ability can help them in their profile, but it's not going to get them in by itself." TheBootleg.com feels for those in the parking lot, breathing the exhaust fumes.
Cardinal fans who follow recruiting have heard a great deal about the recently-signed 2008 class, which features several players ranked highly by various rating services. Forward Nneka Ogwumike (HoopGurlz.com #6, All-Star Girls Report #2, and Blue Star #4), center Sarah Boothe (HG #37, ASGR #19, and BS #30), and guard Lindy La Rocque (approximately #125 HG, ASGR #106, BS #69) were all on the radar of recruiting-savvy fans early. Once the November signing period concluded, those fans discovered that Stanford's 2008 class included one new name, that of guard Grace Mashore. Who is Stanford's intriguing, under-the-radar recruit? Amy Tucker said of Mashore, "Grace is a 5'9" point guard/combo guard. Grace came to our basketball camp last summer. She plays for an excellent AAU team, the Fairfax Stars back in Virginia, and played with people like Jasmine Thomas, who is at Duke, and some really high profile players, so you might not have noticed her as much. Grace came to camp, indicated an interest, and came out here with her dad specifically to have us watch her play. She did a great job. She passes the ball well. She looks upcourt. She pushes it. She hits three-point shots. She was very impressive. The fact that she's played on a very competitive club program helps her. We were her first choice. She was patient with us and wanted to work through the admissions application process. There was a mutual interest and it worked out."
Fans with sharp eyes wandering around Maples Pavilion on game days may occasionally notice people wearing a button picturing a certain associate head coach. These are members of the "Amy Tucker Fan Club". How does one join? Is there a secret handshake? Tucker laughed and said, "I'm not sure if I'm the only assistant coach that has a fan club, but I'm deeply honored. It probably started as a lark a little bit, kind of a joke. They were giving me a hard time about not having a window in my office, and were saying, 'Don't you rank at all? You're the only assistant coach without a window. Can we do something about that?' So they drafted this letter to [then Athletic Director] Ted Leland. They actually sent it to Ted, I think, about how I needed to have a window, etc. It evolved from there, and they got a little serious about it. Actually they've done some really nice fundraising for our program. They sponsor at least four or five lockers. [Fans may sponsor a particular player's locker. The sponsorship lasts throughout the player's Stanford career. Sponsors take a photo with that player, and a plaque with the photo is displayed on the locker.] They've been great! They do get special perks. I go to breakfast with them."
Despite the valiant efforts of the "Amy Tucker Fan Club", everyone's favorite associate head coach still lacks a window in her office. Coach Tucker does not appear to be yearning to go shopping for some curtains, however. She does have a Top 5 team to keep her occupied. We suspect she is quite content without a view, and if she really wanted one, she would be feasting her eyes on whatever sight she desired.
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