Tara VanDerveer Q & A, Part VIII

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 VIII, we quiz the coach about practicing and get some fascinating perspective in return.

In Part VIII of TheBootleg.com's Q & A series with Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer, we ask a few simple questions about basketball practice and find ourselves mulling over a possible unexpected effect of the renovation of Maples Pavilion, wondering how it feels to run on air, and pondering what a 100-meter world record might be if run under water. Practice is more complicated than we thought. If a Bootleg subscriber posed a particular question, that person's Bootleg handle will be in parentheses before the question.

(campusdog) What are the benefits of the new practice facility next to Maples Pavilion?

I'm really excited that we will have the new practice facility. I think something that has hurt us in the last couple of years, and this will sound kind of funny, but since they remodeled Maples, we don't have the baskets that come down, that swing down from the ceiling. They went with portable baskets instead. But they don't always set up all the baskets. If they have a volleyball game or a men's basketball game, we're only working with two baskets. I think we haven't been able to put in the time toward shooting in practice that we had in the past. Now with the new practice facility I really think it could help our shooting. I've not done this but if you look at our statistics for free throw shooting and three-point shooting and you look at when they renovated Maples, I think there will be a correlation simply because we didn't have the baskets available that much. The new facility will really help us with our practicing. We'll be able to get up a lot more shots in practice.

(Of course we had to check the stats. Lo and behold we discovered that over the past twelve seasons, the three worst years for free throw shooting (2005/06, 2008/09 and 2006/07) and three-point shooting (2008/09, 2006/07, and 2007/08) all occurred after Maples Pavilion was renovated in 2004. Obviously correlation does not equal causation but an interesting trend nevertheless. Three-point shooting was quite good in 2005/06, which ranked second best over the 12 seasons, and in 2007/08 free throw shooting ranked fourth, so there was some good shooting post-renovation.)

Because of the type of team we are, the way in my mind that we win at Stanford is that we're maybe not the most athletic, aggressive team in the country so we have to execute offensively and if we get someone open, they have to be able to knock down shots. We have to outwork people. We have to be in better condition. We push it right to the limit and sometimes we go over a little bit and we have some stress fractures, we have some injuries, but in order for us to win we have to be in great shape. We have to outwork people and we have to execute. Those are the things we focus on.

How do you keep players in peak shape over a long season without pounding their legs to death?

We have bikes. We do pool work. We do elliptical or stair master training, things that are easier on their legs. We have a treadmill that lets you run without all your body weight (Air pressure supports body weight while running on the treadmill). We have an underwater treadmill too that also lets you run without wearing on your legs. Unfortunately it is the nature of a lot of these young women athletes anymore that they're playing so much when they are young and it is always constant, constant, constant. Some of these kids play 100 games a year. We have kids at our (basketball) camp today (June 26th) that are going home and playing a game tonight. It's really hard on their bodies.

Could you explain how you chart practices? You use the data to help you determine who should be playing, what shots different players ought to be taking, or perhaps not taking?

We video practices. We keep stats. We chart everything. Yeah, we look at those things you mentioned plus who is working hard that day, who is playing well, who plays well with each other. We can look at what our best lineup is and what plays we should run. We chart everything in practice and everything in games.

Does what you chart in practice usually hold true in games as well?

Actually what you see can help sometimes if you have a preconceived notion about a player, like you might say that Lindy (LaRocque) is a really good shooter, so if she misses, you don't remember the misses but you might remember the makes. Whereas you might think someone else, let's say Jill (Harmon), is not as good a shooter, so you might remember her misses more than her makes. It's better to go back and say oh, how about this – Lindy was 3-8 and Jill was 7-8. Sometimes the numbers can really say who is doing it so you don't have this bias. I think charting everything like we do helps with being more objective. At USA Basketball I was big on stats for practices and tryouts for teams because I thought that bias happened there a lot, like with a player with a big reputation. Well look, they had eight turnovers, you know? Let's get real and look at what they're really doing, not based on their name. I just want people to help us win. I'm constantly looking at the right player and the right combination.

What do you work on in practice early in the season vs. later in the season? What percentage of time do you devote to offense vs. defense, for instance?

We spend a lot more time especially early in our practices on offense because it involves timing and players learning a lot more. Obviously defense is very important. We have a defensive system. We play mostly player-to-player defense and some zone and we might be playing more zone next year as big as we are. I would say the time is at least 2:1 offense over defense early and it might level out as people learn their offense. Then you stoke up your defense.

We do a lot of dummy offense, a lot of offensive drills. We do a lot of shooting drills, passing, fundamental things. A lot of times even though post players are very talented they need a lot of drilling of fundamentals.

If there is something we are really excited about it is the improvement of our players and how hard they work. I feel we made incredible improvement last season. When I watch our Tennessee game or the Duke game early in December vs. later in the season I see it. Look at the Cal game in January vs. the end of our season. I think that's the thing that defines us. We're a steady team. We don't get too high or too low and we're really about improving. This to me, though it's a bit off the question, but this is why I don't always like all this recruiting stuff or ranking stuff with players. It's not that critical. So much of it is internal drive of the players then giving them a really good plan to improve. You need to get the right people together, the right mix.

It seems that many teams - and this is often easy to see watching Pac-10 teams in the second half of the conference schedule - don't look much improved over the course of the season.

For some teams, they are thinking about the season getting over but for our kids, you hit the second half of the Pac-10 schedule and they think of it as the launch pad for the NCAA tournament. We want to get a lot of momentum going. Basketball is such a team sport. Some of it is just figuring out the things that make the puzzle come together. We keep working it out and hopefully improving right up into the NCAA tournament. You could really see that last season.

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