STANFORD, Calif. – Tara VanDerveer and Tennessee's Pat Summitt planned home-and-home series whenever their schedules allowed, two power programs in opposite regions of the country ready to test their teams against a fellow great. Ready to challenge themselves as coaches, too.
Their mutual respect always showed, and it shined. From the pregame hugs and quick chats to polite postgame handshakes that demonstrated the deep admiration they each felt for one another.
So, when VanDerveer tied the late Hall of Famer for most coaching wins in women's basketball with 1,098 victories Sunday night by beating one of her former players guiding rival California, she quickly credited Summitt for helping her get there.
“We would talk, and I think that one of the things, I like the idea of competing against great coaches to get better,” VanDerveer said. “If I tied this record with her, she helped me do it, because of playing against her teams. From the beginning, we only played Tennessee because Jennifer Azzi came to Stanford and we promised Jennifer we would play there like one year — not 25 years."
The 67-year-old VanDerveer is poised to pass Summitt's mark in a game Tuesday night when top-ranked Stanford (4-0) plays at Pacific, and it is certain to be in VanDerveer under-the-radar fashion — at remote Stockton in California's Central Valley. No media were expected to be allowed inside the arena to capture the historic moment aside from the ESPN broadcast crew because of the pandemic.
“Tara has kind of become the Coach K of the women's game,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Monday, referring to Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. “There's just this army of players who she recruits to come through there and then she coaches them up and just year after year they win. It's not easy to do that as a coach, your voice can get old.
"... I've always loved her sort of understated presence. She's understated but she's clearly in charge. When you're in the room with her you feel like, yeah, she’s the boss, but she doesn't need to yell and scream. It's more just poise and knowledge, and the players feel that, and then she keeps churning out these great teams year after year, so she's pretty remarkable.”
In recent years, Kerr has spent time around VanDerveer, a huge Warriors fan who likes to learn from anybody and everybody — no matter the profile or pedigree.