Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part VII

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 VII VanDerveer answers questions about the past two Final Fours and explains the benefits of a super-tough schedule, among other things.

We now hit the home stretch in our Q & A series with Stanford Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. In this, the seventh edition of what will certainly be at least eight and probably nine or even ten (but not more so enjoy them now!), we ask VanDerveer to look back at the last two Final Fours and ahead to the extremely challenging schedule that will face her Cardinal this coming season. If a Bootleg subscriber posed a particular question, that person's Bootleg handle will be in parentheses before the question.

(Taz88) Now that you are a bit removed from the season, how do you feel about the past two Final Fours? What does reaching those Final Fours mean for the program in the future?

If you talk to a lot of coaches, you'll find that the dream of a coach is to go to a Final Four. The fact that we've gone to back-to-back Final Fours, or for me seven of them and Amy (Tucker) has gone to eight, the program has gone to eight, I think it just shows how special Stanford is. I think what it does when you go and you don't win, you motivate yourself to say all right, we have the confidence that we can go but we have to rededicate ourselves to practice harder and figure out when you get there that you've got to win, you've got to go to win it. I like the fact that we have players who don't know anything but going to the Final Four. That is Jeanette Pohlen and Kayla Pedersen's class, and Nneka (Ogwumike), Sarah (Boothe), Lindy (LaRocque)… That's all they know and that's great.

There are never any guarantees. We went to the Elite Eight in 1989 and won a championship in 1990. We went to the Final Four in 1991 and 1992 and won in '92. Then you have the same team back and you don't go in '93. You just get one sprained ankle to one key player and it totally changes things so we are absolutely THRILLED to have been to the Final Four the last two years, especially when we beat Maryland. I mean we haven't even been a #1 seed. When we beat Maryland it was just…we were so happy! And then playing in Berkeley (in the Berkeley Regional at Cal in 2009) was awesome. It was so loud when we played Ohio State. That was a great game. I think Ohio State will be a top five team easily this year. They have a lot of kids coming back. They have an excellent team. That was a big win for us. As a coach, if you get to a Final Four there's some times where you might be ranked #1 and you don't win, but just going is really, really exciting. We are really thrilled that we went the last two years.

(ICROE) In hindsight is there anything you would have done differently in the semi-final game against Connecticut?

We just didn't play well. If we could have played better… Whether or not we would have won, you want to be in the game. We missed so many opportunities. For whatever reason offensively we really, really struggled. A team like Connecticut, when they get you down, they just step on your neck. You're not going to come back – they're just that good. That was not the Connecticut team we had played the year before. I think they went into it thinking about how we knocked them out last time. They were playing really well obviously – undefeated. They're an extremely athletic and talented team.

If there is anything, I just wish we had played better, especially offensively. We had far too many turnovers. You can't play against them with too many mistakes. People just one-on-one getting the ball taken, things like that. You just can't make certain mistakes that we did. To me those mistakes are inexcusable if you want to win at that level. But we only had one senior on our team. A lot of these kids have learned from going to the Final Four. Hopefully they'll be hungry to want to do something better. You look at LSU. They went five times to the Final Four (2004-2008) and never won. You look at Auburn back in the day; they went three times in a row and didn't win. If you get there you have a chance to win. We were there. We had a chance and hopefully we'll have more chances.

(jml0405) Is there an individual not in the field of sports that you admire? How has that individual influenced your career as a teacher, mentor, and coach?

First I'd say my parents. They are people I admire who have obviously impacted me. Besides my parents I would have to say my piano teacher Jodi Gandolfi. She has really influenced me in really positive ways to be a better teacher, to be more patient. I've learned so much and admire her so much – how she demands excellence but in a really positive way.

What basketball teams do you most enjoy watching these days?

I like watching the Lakers. They run a triangle offense. I really like to watch all basketball that's on. I used to watch Indiana men's basketball when Coach Knight was there. I like watching Connecticut. I like the way they play. I like the way Ceal Barry, when she was at Colorado, did things. I used to like to watch her teams. I used to like to watch Texas when Jody Conradt was there. I like to watch Tennessee when they're playing well with their defense and their aggressiveness, how hard they rebound and how hard they play.

I'm trying to think which teams I like in men's basketball anymore. I like watching the Connecticut men. I like different teams. Sometimes it's just the style. I like watching up-tempo, running teams that play with a purpose, that move the ball well. I like a lot of offense as a spectator. Usually I like it as a coach too.

What do you hope to gain from the very difficult non-conference schedule next year with this particular team, which is experienced and has been to consecutive Final Fours?

That is a great question. Our team wants to avoid any surprises in the NCAA tournament. You do that by playing against the best. It's also really good for kids like Jeanette and Kayla, who are playing with Maya Moore and Tina Charles (on the USA Basketball World University Games Team this summer). Jayne (Appel) would have been on that team too. You want people to have the experience of playing against the best so you're ready for the NCAA tournament. This pre-season schedule gets you ready for anything in the Pac-10 too.

Our team would be bored with a "cupcake" schedule. I'm going to get more out of our team in practice because they'll look at the schedule and see we're opening at Old Dominion and then we've got Rutgers or that our games against Connecticut and Tennessee are on television. All these teams we're playing are NCAA teams. I think everyone on our (non-conference) schedule except maybe Pepperdine was an NCAA team last year. You also want to have tough games because you want your freshmen to see it right from the get-go. They can see what we need them to do against the best teams.

(Qwerty49) I'd like to know more about the in-season practice cycle. When do you start specific preparations for an opponent and how are practices structured?

We'll start by putting in our offense. We're evaluating that right now – what tweaks we want to make with our offense. We will run a triangle offense again next year but we'll make some adjustments based on personnel and based on the things we learned from playing against Tennessee, playing against Connecticut – what kinds of things they do against us. Duke- how did they try to stop us? We'll adjust. We'll work on our offense.

We work on fundamentals every day. For the most part during the season we focus on our team and our players and our stuff. The day before we play a team we will go over the scouting report, we will walk through the things that they do and drill it that way. If there is a team that is a super team that does things that we don't see very often, we'll have guys come in and do those things the day before. For the Pac-10, we play those teams twice so our team will watch video. We have a lot of video. We do a lot of editing and showing people video. I think we scout really well. Both Bobbie (Kelsey) and Kate (Paye) are excellent at scouting. They really break down the tape and say this is what we're looking to do, this is how we want to stop this player, this team. Our great scouting is huge for us. Our players are very prepared.

The Bootleg Top Stories