Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part III

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 III, VanDerveer concludes the discussion of the Stanford recruiting process by answering more questions from fans.

In Part I of this Q & A, Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer laid out some basics about the recruiting process at Stanford. In Part II she illuminated the application process further and answered a few questions from fans. In this third part of our Q & A, VanDerveer answers more questions from fans about Stanford's recruiting process. If a question was asked by more than one person (or if I just threw it in there myself) it will not have a specific name attached. Questions from individual Bootleg subscribers will be noted.

StanfordScout09 wants to know how it was recruiting top players like Jayne Appel, Kayla Pedersen, and Nneka Ogwumike.

Those players are great players that were being recruited by everybody. The very best players on our team are players that can go anywhere they want. Whether it's Jayne, whether it's Nneka, whether it's Kayla, they're great students and they're great players. You try to get to know them. I talk to them, write to them, e-mail them, and have them come out to Stanford.

Really what sells Stanford, obviously it's a beautiful campus with great academics and great tradition at this point, but it's meeting the team. When they meet the other players on the team, they meet people like themselves that are serious about academics and serious about basketball. And they realize that there is no backdoor into Stanford. They are serious students and they really connect with our team.

The biggest thing that works I think, and this has been a big part of our recruiting, is our camp. Our summer basketball camp at its height had 1800 girls. Looking at our (2009) senior class, all three came to camp – Jill (Harmon), Morgan (Clyburn), and Ros (Gold-Onwude, who redshirted and is now part of the class of 2010). Jayne came to our camp. Candice Wiggins did. Kristin Folkl did too. A lot of it is they come and see camp, they see the campus, they realize it's not all nerds, that our team is very happy, our kids are very happy, and they talk to each other. They're very motivated to do their application or if they're accepted they're like, wow this is great!

Speaking of Kayla Pedersen, wasn't she was one of the earliest recruits (for women's basketball) ever to be accepted?

I think she was. (Pedersen was accepted in mid-May of her junior year and committed to the Cardinal at the end of that month.) She was such a great student. She had been to camp two years. We knew Kayla. She knew Stanford. She got the application and her school got out early. She got the application maybe in April and some of the applications are going out now (in early May for the class of 2010). She just got right on it. She graduated in the top 10 of her class of maybe 900 students. She was a slam-dunk for us. She was a fabulous student and obviously an All-American player. But she could go anywhere she wanted.

Warren65 asks how recruiting has changed over the years, especially with all the new ways to contact recruits such as e-mail, texting, Twitter, etc.

In some ways the technology has changed recruiting tremendously but the NCAA rules have changed to become more restrictive too. Text messaging has changed. First you could do it; now you can't do it. A lot of changes are to let high school kids enjoy being high school kids. Coaches will text and call at 2:00 AM - it's a never-ending type of thing. There are more services. There are more tournaments. There is more television. I think there is good and bad to it. We just try to keep it real, just say here, this is what Stanford is, this is how our team is, and this is a great fit. We work very hard to e-mail and write. Our coaches are extra creative and do things that make kids feel wanted. And also, hopefully kids are a good fit. But technology definitely changes things and it can work for you or sometimes against you.

Also from Warren65, what is the effect of message boards such as The Bootleg, where fans are always trying to dig out the latest on potential recruits?

I think it is just the nature of the game now. You want it to be something positive for your program but it has the potential to be either positive or negative.

Figeac cites several examples of teams that have a certain consistent style of play such as Rutgers with their defense or North Carolina with their breakneck pace and asks how VanDerveer views Stanford's character or style of play and whether there have been players that turned out not to fit in well with that style.

Coaches have a philosophy. They have a way that they coach the game and view the game or understand the game and teach the game. Our philosophy is that we want to play up-tempo and we want to run. Our teams have been probably more player-to-player defensively than zone. Every coach has that. But I think it is really important for me to be flexible. Whoever I can recruit to Stanford, I can't have a system and just try to force them into it. I have to be flexible and figure out how to take advantage of our best players' strengths, what is going to give our team the best chance to be successful. There are some people that, and this is true of every place, they might get to a school and might get more interested in their classes or social life and maybe they don't develop as much as we as coaches would hope. But I would say if there is anything that I'm most proud of it is the improvement of our players and the success of our program. I think it is a direct reflection on our program that our players improve, whether it is someone like Jennifer Azzi or someone like Jeanette Pohlen. When they are in our system, they have to buy into it, but if they do they really improve a lot.

The system has been changed in a variety of ways over the years…

Right. Some of it is just figuring out what is going to work and what you like to teach and again, giving our team the best chance of being successful. Nest year, who knows? We might be playing more zone depending on our personnel, for instance.

Chelli asks who on the staff is primarily responsible for identifying and recruiting perimeter players and whether the success or failure of the staff in recruiting players whose abilities will translate at the college level is evaluated each year.

Amy (Tucker) is our Recruiting Coordinator but all four of us coaches go out and evaluate and watch players. I think the biggest thing is that our pool is very small and it is what it is, whether it is perimeter or post. There are some years where we've had terrific point guard play and terrific "1," "2," and "3" players but we needed depth inside, for example. I feel like we've recruited the absolute best guards at Stanford – Candice Wiggins, I don't think there is any guard I would take over her. Nicole Powell was a great guard. Jamie Carey played in the pros.

A lot of it is year to year who is available. We need great, talented, smart players. We work really hard to get them here. The thing about Stanford is that year in and year out, we're right there. I think that things are skewed a little bit because of Connecticut and Tennessee. They both have great programs. They've both been more consistent than Stanford, but I don't know that anyone else has been.

In our situation, we have restrictions academically. This is a great fit for a kid, whatever position, if they want this kind of academic experience with the basketball experience too. The question is phrased in a negative way, but the pool we have is small, you know? This is probably politically incorrect, but I call it the rifle approach as opposed to the shotgun approach. It's just a waste of time to be recruiting kids that have absolutely no chance of fitting the Stanford academic profile. Now do I wish there were more? Sure!

There are going to be some players that need to be close to home or whose parents need them to be close to home. That's not ever going to change. Stanford is in California. We're not moving it to, you know, Indiana. But again, in 24 years I can't even get to ten kids that have gotten through the recruiting process and not come. There will be a number of people that say we recruited this one or that one but just because I sent a letter or made a phone call? Recruiting to me if we are going to be serious about it is someone who has the academics and goes through the process.

Mook22 asks why it has been so difficult to recruit top-rated (top 20) guards recently. Chelli wonders about the prospect of recruiting top-level guards in 2010 or 2011 to go along with all the highly rated inside talent Stanford has been able to attract recently.

There is no team that has everything. We'd always like to improve our athleticism, our perimeter skills, and our shooting. We know what we want but some of it is based on obviously #1 - who can get in, and #2 - who wants to come. The way I look at it is whether it is Jeanette (Pohlen) or JJ (Hones), they've got two more years. We recruited Skylar Diggins and she decided to go to Notre Dame. That is her decision and we wish her well. But that doesn't mean we are just going to say, "Woe is us." Kids are just going to go where they want to go.

We have a great situation. We have a great opportunity. We are working really hard. I'm on the phone with the top players that we feel have the profile for Stanford. We want to let the process play out. This is part of the journey that young kids have – to figure out what makes them tick, what's a good fit for them. Obviously we hope great players fit the academic profile and want to come. But our situation is good. We have a great track record of kids graduating, serious students graduating. The experience kids have here – they're very happy. I think our staff really develops players well. We're one of two teams to have gone to the Final Four back-to-back years. Tell me how many other teams besides maybe Connecticut or Tennessee went three years in the Elite Eight, one year where we had the bad loss to Florida State, and then two Final Fours? If you look at our NCAA seed, we have beaten our seed in the last ten years.

Honestly there are more great players who want to come than we can recruit. I could give you a list of Olympians that wanted to come. This is a no-joke place. There is just no BS about it. The list is so long. There are great kids where this is not a fit. I respect Stanford for the fact that they hold their ground. It's hard on me. I've come home just screaming and swearing. But it is what it is. And it comes back to they've got to be able to jump through the same hoops academically. And in the long run it's a great thing in terms of kids graduating and what they do afterwards. Over 30,000 kids will apply for 1600 places. I don't think there is a better job in America. To me, for the kids that decide to come to Stanford, it's the ultimate challenge because they really challenge themselves athletically and academically.

This concludes our three-part Q & A about Stanford's recruiting process. Many thanks to Coach VanDerveer for her time. Our Q & A with VanDerveer will continue over the summer and cover a variety of topics. If you have any brilliant (or even semi-brilliant) questions, please hop over to the women's basketball board and post them!

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