Tara Ann VanDerveer has written her name into American College Basketball history, when she became the most successful head coach women’s or men when she surpassed Mike Krzyzewski record with 1203 wins on Sunday 21 January at the Stanford Maples Pavilion in California after the Stanford Cardinals defeated Oregon State Beavers.
An iconic coach, leader, and mentor whose career spanned 45-years is a true guardian of the sport. She started her career at the Idaho Vandals women’s basketball team where she spent two season as head-coach. She blended right in and one could mistake her for a player (which she would have loved). She was fanatical about details and approached the women’s game with an intensity that no-one else had experienced.
Her commitment was unquestionable and her standards were high, she would expect nothing less from her team. She earned 42 career wins with the Idaho team, but that was the precedent for what was set to become the most illustrious career in the history of sport.
One of her key rules was “No-one should ever outplay us in the last few minutes of the game. We are going to outplay everyone in that last 5-minutes, no matter who it is, we are going to be in better shape than they are.” A key component that made her so successful.
To be coached by VanDerveer was a revelation. Her passion and dedication were clear and soul felt by students even before they got to campus. In an era that had no strength and conditioning coaches, VanDerveer doubled up as such. Players were not used to such things but once they started, they realised how she changed the game for them on every level.
She was constantly studying the game, strategising, and reading, broadening her outlook of where she wanted to be and where her teams needed to be. Tara’s love for swimming and playing the piano is what gave her a balanced lifestyle in what is a rather strenuous career.
She encouraged that balance of life with her team and they in turn realised that she saw them as more than just players and it is what set her apart from everyone else.
VanDerveer spent five years Ohio State University as head-coach, before she made the move to Stanford in the 1985-1986 season, where she would eventually cement herself as one of the top coaches in the history of sport, both collegiately and internationally.
VanDerveer has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success through an energetic and positive approach to the game. A five-time national coach of the year (1988, 1989, 1990, 2011, 2021) and 17-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. VanDerveer has more career wins to her name than 344 of the country’s 351 Division I programs
VanDerveer has been the head women’s basketball coach at Stanford University since 1985. She led the Stanford Cardinals to three NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) Women’s Division Basketball Championships in 1990, 1992 and 2021.
With an array of accolades to her name, with the most coveted being when she served as head-coach to Team USA at the 1996 Olympics and USA defeated Brazil in the finals in Atlanta to claim Olympic gold. VanDerveer Olympic team was considered one of the best team ever assembled in that year with a 60-0 winning record.
Tara was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022 alongside fellow trailblazers such as Cindy Brogdon (US Women’s Basketball Silver Medallist at the 1976 Olympic Games, the first competition for Women’s Basketball), Margaret Sexton Gleaves (earned All-American recognition 8-times in her ten-year career), Lea Plarski (first female to receive Lifetime officiating license from FIBA).
After her milestone record achievement on Sunday, 70-year-old VanDerveer, spoke to the media in a quite humble tone, “It means I’ve coached a lot of great players, had great staff, worked at great universities, and I’m just so blessed and so thankful. It is just a tribute to the great teams I have had and great places I have worked. I think it’s great for women’s basketball that there’s a lot of attention and we’re having just a super season.”
As much as she was a coach, she is invested in her players. She cared about what was going on with them both on and off the field of play. Perhaps one of VanDerveer’s most notable attributes is her ability to connect with student-athletes and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of college athletics and allowed them to grow in the very best versions of themselves. Many of whom have gone on to become coaches themselves.
Mike Krzyzewski sportingly paid tribute to the true icon in sport on Sunday: “This is a tremendous accomplishment for Tara VanDerveer, who is already one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of basketball. This is yet another milestone to add to an amazing legacy.”
“More important than all the astounding numbers and career accomplishments, she’s positively impacted countless lives as a coach and a mentor. She remains a true guardian of the sport.”