Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part I

This may be the off-season but fans can stay tuned in to Stanford basketball through TheBootleg.com's ongoing Q & A series with Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. In Part I, VanDerveer delves into the mysteries of the recruiting process at Stanford.

Those fans fortunate enough to attend Stanford Fast Break Club post-game events know that Head Coach Tara VanDerveer is always happy to field questions from curious fans. Coincidentally TheBootleg.com maintains message boards full of curious fans. Mix the agreeable coach with the curious fans and you get this series of Q & A sessions with VanDerveer. For Part I of our Q & A, which will be the first of two (or possibly three) about the recruiting process, we will cheat slightly – we will forgo the "Q" portion. In Part I, VanDerveer provides a primer on Stanford recruiting that should answer some frequently asked questions. Follow-up Q & A's will feature questions from Bootleg message board participants.

VanDerveer considers the Stanford recruiting process to consist of three parts: the evaluation, the application, and the recruiting. Evaluating young players takes place during the high school season and even more intensely in the spring and summer months when club teams attend large, multi-team tournaments and coaches flock to see them. The NCAA sets aside specific evaluation periods during the school year when coaches may go to various showcase tournaments. One such period occurred in mid-April.

"We just had a weekend where we were allowed to go out and watch players play, like at the Boo Williams Tournament and the Deep South Tournament (both on the East Coast). There were all these tournaments that happened about two weeks ago (around the weekend of April 17th)," explained VanDerveer. "Basically we watch games from 8:30 in the morning, sometimes East Coast time, until 11:00 at night. So you watch hundreds of kids play. You're allowed to have three coaches on the road at once. Myself, Amy (Tucker), Bobbie (Kelsey) and Kate (Paye) rotate who is where and which players we are seeing."

"Once we identify kids, if they are younger players, we put them on our 2011 list or our 2012 list. We develop lists of players that we're seeing. But once they are juniors, you pretty much have a list of 10-15. We also pay for (scouting) services. We buy services for hundreds of dollars to help identify younger players. The first thing is getting names and then evaluating the players."

When The Bootleg spoke with VanDerveer, the conversation was yet one more phone call tacked onto an already busy day of calls. "During the months of April, May, and June, you are allowed one phone call (to a recruit), so today is like a phone call day, or anytime this month but just the once," offered VanDerveer. "You're allowed phone calls. You can go watch a player play. You have a limit of five times you can watch them play during the school year their junior year. So our top recruits, juniors, we have seen play five times. That's the whole staff. That's maybe a combination of Amy goes twice, I go twice, and Kate goes once or maybe Bobbie goes three times and I go twice, like that. We get five evaluations during their junior season."

VanDerveer further explained that during the high school year the staff as a group is allowed 100 evaluations/contacts total for all recruits, including home visits and school visits. Contacts such as home visits are only permitted for high school seniors. Coaches can evaluate/contact each recruit a maximum of five times and of those five evaluations/contacts, all five could be evaluations but a maximum of three can be contacts (seniors only), when coaches can interact with a recruit beyond just watching her play. The Stanford staff doesn't usually get anywhere close to the 100 maximum contacts/evaluations allowed since their recruiting pool is so much smaller than other programs.

"There are so few players that we can really recruit," said VanDerveer. "Some places, they go every night – they're going to a game. They get in their car and they go. But almost every time we go to a game it's a flight. I don't miss our practices very often to go see a game but you are allowed a certain number of times you can go and watch. If two coaches go to a game that counts double. That evaluation is part of the recruiting in that they've got to see you at their games."

"Now all that is only during the school year. During the summer you have unlimited evaluation times. Basically during the summer coaches can just go and watch the top players that you are recruiting. But you still can only have three coaches on the road at a time. The rules are very strict about phone calls, letters, and other contacts. You can write letters and e-mail but no texting and no instant messaging. All the new technology is definitely challenging for the NCAA."

All programs do the same basics, evaluating players and developing their prospect lists, but at the same time the Stanford staff is evaluating basketball skills they have the added burden of evaluating whether a player is an academic fit for Stanford. Said VanDerveer, "When I first interviewed at Stanford, my first meeting during my interview was with the Director of Admissions. He said to me that we needed to recruit players that could jump through the same hoops academically as other students. And I was thinking I just needed players who could put the ball through the hoop!"

An obvious key to Stanford recruiting is getting recruits to apply, the earlier the better, but it turns out that getting an application out to a recruit requires much more than simply popping the papers into the mail.

Continued VanDerveer, "The next part is the application part. Let's say we find Sally Superstar. We have to see the transcript. We have to get her transcript and it's not good enough for the coach to say, ‘Oh yeah, she's a great student.' In order for us to have her apply we have to take the transcript and information to our (Admissions) contact in the Athletic Department to then get an application. They might look at the transcript and say, ‘Well we need to see her junior grades.‘ Or they might say, ‘We need to see improved test scores.' We can't even automatically send an application. These (applications given out in late spring/early summer to a recruit in her junior year of high school) are what we call early applications because the applications don't come out until August. Right now we are identifying players that we really like and we are monitoring their academics. Yesterday (May 2nd) was an SAT test. This is a real key time for us for the top players to be ‘recruitable,' so to speak."

"We might like a player and the player calls us and says she's already committed. She's going with so-and-so. She's going somewhere. But someone really can't commit to us," noted VanDerveer. "Jamie Carey, as an example, said, ‘I'm coming to Stanford!' But I said, ‘Well Jamie you have to be accepted first.' Our process is slower and much more painstaking than other places. It's drawn out. I believe we are the only place that requires an application besides Ivy League Schools. We try to get an application to our top kids by the end of their junior year. The application process involves writing serious essays and having a minimum of two but usually three recommendations from teachers, so you can imagine how hard that is to get your teacher to write a recommendation in July or August. So we try to get them the application before the end of their junior year. Sometimes we can and sometimes we can't."

"And let's say they work on their application and they get their application in. A lot of things happen in their junior year. Some players will take unofficial visits. An unofficial visit is not paid for (by the school). Stanford in a lot of respects is at a disadvantage in that a lot of players can't drive to Stanford. It's very expensive for them to come and their parents to get a hotel and everything. It can be a challenge for us when you look at the academics and the geography of it. The reason it works so well is that there are really bright women and they want a great education. And then they get the opportunity to play in a Final Four too."

Recruits can take up to five official visits, when the schools foot the bill for a 48-hour visit. Here again the logistics of the process put Stanford at a disadvantage. Said VanDerveer, "Recruits can go on official campus visits the first day of their school year, which seems a little funny. You can start visiting and leaving school as soon as you start school but not during the summer. But for us, as an example let's say a kid starts school on August 20th and we don't start school at Stanford until maybe September 20th. So a lot of our visits are really late and a lot of kids are under a lot of pressure to make decisions. The pattern of things as far as recruiting is really the ultimate challenge. You've got to do an application. Geographically we're not the easiest to get to. And then you're going to come visit late. A lot of kids now will not take all five official visits."

"We've learned through the process of recruiting for basically twenty-four years that for the most part we do not have people visit officially until they've been accepted. We had a situation where someone wanted to come, I thought she was going to get in, and when she didn't it just wasn't a good thing. So when people talk about players that were recruited by Stanford, really "recruited" for us is someone that filled out an application and if they were accepted, they visited. If I look at that definition of someone who has filled out the application and taken an official visit to Stanford, over twenty-four years I can think of maybe seven and a quarter people who didn't come, and I count Brooke Smith as a quarter for that one year she went to Duke. This year (the 2009 high school class) it was very rare that there were two that were accepted and did not come. A lot of years we go four for four or three for three."

"What works against you in that situation is probably geography, players wanting to play close to home. The number two thing might be that we have players at their position or they sense that it's too competitive. Early on when I was first at Stanford it was you don't have enough good players. And there might be some kids who want to go through the process and when it comes down to it, it's not the right fit. The numbers are very small so our margin for error is really slight. But when I look at the numbers of say Stanford doctors against any other Division I team, we'd do really well, or a Stanford lawyers' team I think would win an NCAA championship. The kids are just really serious about academics and they also love being at Stanford."

Part II of our Q & A with Tara VanDerveer will continue with VanDerveer fielding questions from our august group of Bootleg message board participants.

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