|Born||June 26, 1953|
|Coaching career (HC unless noted)|
|Head coaching record|
|Tournaments||60–23 (NCAA Division I)|
5–1 (Big Ten)
|Accomplishments and honors|
|Basketball Hall of Fame|
Inducted in 2011 (profile)
|Women's Basketball Hall of Fame|
Tara Ann VanDerveer (born June 26, 1953) is an American basketball coach who has been the head women's basketball coach at Stanford University since 1985. Designated the Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women's Basketball, VanDerveer led the Stanford Cardinal to three NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Championships: in 1990, 1992 and 2021. She stepped away from the Stanford program for a year to serve as the U.S. national team head coach at the 1996 Olympic Games. VanDerveer is the 1990 Naismith National Coach of the Year and a ten-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. She is also one of only nine NCAA Women's Basketball coaches to win over 900 games, and one of ten NCAA Division I coaches – men's or women's – to win 1,000 games. Van Derveer was inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. On December 15, 2020 she passed Pat Summitt for most wins in women's college basketball history.
VanDerveer was born on June 26, 1953, to Dunbar and Rita VanDerveer, who named their first child "Tara" after the plantation in Gone with the Wind. She was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, a part of Greater Boston, but grew up in a small town in West Hill, near Schenectady, New York. Her parents were interested in a well-rounded education. Her father was studying for a doctorate at the school now known as the University at Albany. He took the family to Chautauqua Institution in the summer, where she immersed in arts as well as sports. She still holds the Chautauqua Boys and Girls Club record for the longest Softball throw in 1967. At the age of ten, her parents bought her a flute, and arranged for lessons. Two years later, one of the premier flutists in the world was staying in Chautauqua, and her father arranged for lessons with this distinguished teacher. Although she learned to play, she did not enjoy the experience, and gave up the flute in ninth grade. The love of music stayed with her though, and in later years she would take up the piano.
There were no sports teams for girls when she was in high school, but she played a number of sports including basketball, in rec leagues and pickup. When she was younger, she played with both boys and girls. As she entered her high school years, the girls dropped out for other interests, so she was more apt to play with boys. To help make sure she would be chosen, she bought the best basketball she could afford, so if the boys wanted to play with her basketball, they would have to pick her.
Her father wasn't completely supportive of her basketball interest, calling her in from the neighbor's basketball hoop, telling her, "Basketball won't take you anywhere. Come in and do your algebra." Tara was equally certain that algebra wasn't going to take her anywhere. Her family moved to Niagara Falls in her sophomore year in high school. The house in West Hill had a gravel driveway, making a basketball hoop impractical, but her parents got her a hoop for Christmas when they were in Niagara Falls. By then, she thought she was too old for basketball, although she would take it up again after she transferred to Buffalo Seminary, an all-girls college preparatory school, in her junior year. She ended up earning a place in the Buffalo Seminary's Athletic Hall of Fame.
VanDerveer was determined to play basketball in college. Her first choice was Mount Holyoke, but as one of five children, it wasn't financially possible for her to attend Mount Holyoke, so she chose Albany where her father had studied for his doctorate. It wasn't a great team, but she knew the coach, which helped with the decision. The team turned out not be challenging enough. Although naturally a guard, she jumped center, and led the team in many categories, despite being the freshman on the team. She decided she needed a bigger challenge so she talked some of her friends into attending the AIAW National Championship, where she watched many teams, took notes, and decided where she wanted to go. She chose Indiana where she transferred and spent three years, making the Dean's List each of the three years. In her sophomore year, 1973 she helped the team reach the Final Four of the AIAW championship, losing in the semi-finals to Queens College.
At that time, the men's basketball team at Indiana was coached by future Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight. While Knight was not a direct influence on VanDerveer's choice of school, he may have had an indirect effect. The Indiana women's coach, Bea Gorton, patterned her style of play and practices after Knight, and it was the observation of the style of play at the AIAW event that persuaded her to choose Indiana. The effect would become more direct. VanDerveer enrolled in Knight's coaching basketball classes at IU and regularly observed his team's practices. VanDerveer carried what she learned from Knight to her practices at Stanford.
After completing college, VanDerveer took a year off, with a plan to return to law school. When she ran out of money she returned home. When her parents realized she was doing little beyond playing chess and sleeping, they urged her to help with her sister Marie's basketball team. Her sister was five years younger, and by the time Marie reached high school, the school had basketball teams for girls. The experience was exasperating in some ways, as the girls did not take it seriously, but VanDerveer realized coaching was something she loved.
VanDerveer sent out resumes to twenty schools, looking for a graduate assistant job, which is an unpaid position. She only got two responses, one of which was for Ohio State, where the athletic director had remembered her from Indiana. To prepare herself, she attended a coaching clinic taught by Knight. When she had attended his practices, she had stayed out of sight, but enrolled in a class, she followed her parents advice and sat up front. One of the coaches asked if she was lost. Knight embarrassed her with one of his questions, but she didn't stop attending, although she moved back a few rows. She was hired as an assistant coach to the varsity and the head coach of the JV.
In her first year, she coached the JV team to an 8–0 season. That caught the attention of Marianne Stanley at Old Dominion, who offered her an assistant coaching position. VanDerveer wanted to finish her master's degree, so accepted a paid position at Ohio State, at a salary less than a quarter of the Old Dominion offer.
After two years, in which she earned a master's degree in sports administration, she applied for the head coaching position at the University of Idaho. In her interview, when asked what she was going to do to be successful, she responded "work". When they asked her to elaborate, she responded, "hard work". She got the job. When she arrived at Idaho, the team had only one winning season in their first four years. Under VanDerveer, the team improved to 17–8 in her first year, the 1978 season. The team won the first game of the season, beating the Northern Montana Skylights 80–78, which represented the first of VanDerveer's wins. The following year, the team improved to 25–6, which earned the team an invitation to the AIAW Women's Basketball Tournament (the precursor to the NCAA National Championships).
VanDerveer returned to Ohio State as head coach in 1981. On February 3, 1985, Ohio State played Iowa. The Ohio State team was unbeaten in conference play, while Iowa had just a single loss. Iowa was coached by future Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer. The game was at Carver-Hawkeye Arena which had 15,500 seats. University officials had to close the doors and turn fans away. The turnstiles recorded 22,157. At the time, this was a record number of fans to watch a women's basketball game. Fans sat in the aisles, and the fire marshal sent a letter of reprimand to Christine Grant, who was then the director of women's athletics at Iowa. The letter still hangs prominently on Grant's wall. Ohio State won the game 56–47, but it is the attendance record that the two coaches remember.
By 1985, VanDerveer had developed Ohio State into a nationally ranked team, breaking into the Top 20 in 1984, and reaching number 7 in the final rankings of 1985. Their success in 1985 earned a two seed in the 1985 NCAA Women's Division I Basketball Tournament. They made it to the Elite Eight, but lost by four points to eventual national champion Old Dominion. While Stanford would later become one of the nation's powerhouses in women's basketball, in 1985 it was coming off a 9–19 year following a 5–23 year, with only 300 fans a game. Despite this challenge, Andy Geiger convinced VanDerveer to come to Stanford to become the head coach. VanDerveer later recounted that her friends told her going to Stanford was a bad move, because Stanford was too "brainy" to be good in sports. She said, "My dad told me I was crazy to take this job. He said, 'You’ll be unemployed and coming home to live with us in three months'."
VanDerveer's first year with Stanford was a step backward for the coach. After four consecutive 20-plus win seasons at Ohio State, the Cardinal finished under .500 in her first year, with a 13–15 record, and barely improved that the following year, reaching 14–14. By her third year, when she was playing her own recruits, and the team was now following her coaching philosophy, the record jumped to 27–5. Stanford did not earn a bid to the NCAA tournament in either of her first two years, and had not attended since 1982, but earned a bid in 1988, reaching the Sweet Sixteen, and has earned an invitation to the tournament in every subsequent year.
Another milestone was reached in the following year, when Stanford won the Pac-10 regular season, the first of many conference championships. They earned a two seed in the NCAA tournament, and played to their seed, losing to Louisiana Tech in the Midwest Regional Final. The pieces came together in 1990, with one key being Jennifer Azzi. The 1990 Final Four would be held in Knoxville, Tennessee. Azzi was from Oak Ridge, not far from Knoxville. VanDerveer had traveled to Knoxville in 1985, to try to persuade this potential star to play for Stanford. Azzi made the decision to go to Stanford, and now, four years later, brought the team to her parents' house after beating Arkansas in the West Regional, reaching their first Final Four and a trip to Knoxville.
Stanford faced Virginia in the semi-final, a team which was competing in their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament, and had reached the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight in each of the last three years. Stanford beat Virginia 75–66 to advance to the National Championship game. The championship game pitted Stanford against Auburn, who had finished as runner-up in each of the last two Tournaments. Auburn opened up an early lead, but Azzi helped bring the team back to a tie score by halftime, and lead a run in the second half that would earn the Most Outstanding player award for Azzi, and the first National Championship for VanDerveer and Stanford.
By 2019 Stanford had won two NCAA championships and 12 trips to the Final Four. VanDerveer's coaching record at Stanford was 900–192, making her the fifth Division I coach to chalk up 900 wins at a single school.
In December 14, 2020 VanDerveer tied the record for coaching wins and then surpassed existing women's game wins record (held by Pat Summitt) when Stanford beat Pacific on December 16, 2020.
In April 2021, VanDerveer led the Cardinals to their third NCAA title with a 54-53 victory over their Pac-12 rival Arizona Wildcats. It marked their first title in 29 years.
Although the USA Basketball women's national team had considerable success in the 1980s—winning the 1984 Olympics, the 1986 World Championship, the 1988 Olympics, and the 1990 World Championship—there were signs of concern. The USA women's Pan American team, while not formally the national team, has, since the mid-1970s, included many of the same players as the national team. The Pan Am team in 1991 would finish third, signaling a potential end to Team USA's past dominance. The national team finished third at the 1992 Olympics, and third again in the 1994 World Championship. The 1995 Pan Am Games were cancelled, so the national team players did not have a win after the 1992 Olympics.
The USA Basketball organization, with input from VanDerveer, decided to depart from the usual strategy to form a team a few weeks before the event, which severely limited the practice time. Instead, they decided to form a full-time national team to stay together for a year, preparing to the 1996 Olympics. VanDerveer was chosen as head coach, but was expected to take a one-year sabbatical from her head coaching position at Stanford.
The selection of VanDerveer was not surprising. The USA Basketball organization typically selects coaches for some of the junior teams, to assess who will be most qualified to lead the National Team at the Olympics. This was no exception. VanDerveer had worked with USA Basketball teams in 1986 and 1990, and served as the head coach of the team representing the US at the 1991 World University Games. That team went 8–0 and won the gold medal in Sheffield, England. Two years later, she coached the team in the World Championship qualifying event. She continued at the coach of the National team at the 1994 World Championships in Sydney, where the USA team won the bronze medal. Two months later, VanDerveer coached the USA Goodwill Games team to a 4–0 record and a gold medal at the 1994 Goodwill Games in Saint Petersburg. So when it was time to select the Olympic coach, VanDerveer had coached several USA Basketball teams, including the full national team. The previous involvement of VanDerveer meant she was the obvious choice as coach, but she was initially reluctant to take the position, as she had decided that to do it properly, she would need to take a leave of absence from Stanford. In her words, "When you're representing your country, it's not something you want to mess up." She eventually decided to take the position, and did take the leave of absence, with Amy Tucker and Marianne Stanley taking over the reins at Stanford in her absence.
Prior to 1996, the head coach had much input into the team selection. While the USA Basketball organization selected the pool of potential players, the head coach chose the final team. That changed in 1996, when USA Basketball decided to take over the selection role. The initial selection was of 11 players, with plans to add a 12th player later, which would allow the organization to determine what was most needed. The lack of input lead to some differences of opinions, as VanDerveer was concerned about teams like China with a 6'8" (2.03 m) center. She wanted more size than the USA Basketball organization chose. Although she made her feelings known on some occasions, when she vented her frustrations to her longtime assistant Amy Tucker, who was taking over as interim head coach (along with Marianne Stanley), Tucker reminded her that she had committed to coach whomever was selected, and VanDerveer kept commitments.
Although Team USA would win all eight games in the 1996 Olympics, with the closest game being a 15-point victory over Japan, VanDerveer was not certain of victory, even as the team was en route to a 52–0 pre-Olympic record against college and national teams. After beating the Cuban national team on May 26, 1996, in Townsville, Australia, the team record reached 44–0. In their next game against the Ukraine national team, played in Adelaide on May 14, the USA team won again, but VanDerveer was not happy. Ukraine, at full strength, was not the best team in the world, and was not seen to be as strong as Russia or Brazil. Moreover, Ukraine was expected to add better players before the Olympics, yet the USA team won by only 11 points, 62–51. VanDerveer recalled worrying at the time: "There's no way we can play like this and win a gold medal."
A few days later, Team USA was down by 12 points at the half, but VanDerveer turned it into a positive opportunity. It was only an exhibition game, but she used it as a chance to show how the team should respond if down early in an Olympic game. The USA team went on to win that game by seven points.
The opening game of the Olympics was against Cuba. Although the USA had played Cuba several times during their exhibition tour, and won handily, none of those games counted. A loss in the preliminary round wouldn't eliminate the team form medal contention, but a second loss would, so there was additional pressure. The USA team was playing in front of a home crowd, and played tight in the beginning, while Cuba hit six of their first eight shots to take a 14–7 lead. The team settled down, helped by a spark from the reserves, and went on to win 101–84. The second game was against Ukraine, another team they had played in exhibition, but a team that had done well against the US, worrying VanDerveer. This time, the result would not be so close, and the USA team won their second game 98–65.
The third game was against Zaire. While the first two games were in the compact Morehouse College gym, filled to capacity with under 5,000 spectators, the third game would be in the Georgia Dome. VanDerveer expect more fans, but wasn't expecting 31,320, representing the largest crowd in history to witness a women's basketball game. Although it was a home crowd, VanDerveer was happy that the opponent was Zaire, in case the size of the crowd made them nervous. Zaire was over-matched, and the USA team won 107–47, ensuring a place in the medal rounds. The next game was against Australia, one of the stronger teams in the field. The game was the first game played by Team USA after the bombing incident which left the team with little sleep. The attendance set a new record, with 33,952 spectators. The game was close for much of the game, with no team leading by more than six points until late in the second half, when Team USA extended the margin and won 96–79. The next game was against Japan. With no Japanese player over six feet tall (1.83 m), Team USA had a height advantage. The USA exploited the advantage, and opened up a 28-point lead, but Japan fought back with three-point shooting and cut the lead to 13 at one point. The final margin was 15 points, the closest game to that point.
VanDerveer's Olympic team was considered one of the best ever assembled, and compiled a 60–0 record over the course of the year, culminating in a gold medal at the Olympics in Atlanta.
VanDerveer was the head coach of the team representing the US at the World University Games held in Sheffield, England in July 1991. The USA team started out with a very strong offense, scoring over 100 points in each of the first four games. The fourth game was against the USSR, a team often challenging the US for the top spot, but the USA won 106–80 this time. The team fell short of 100 points in the game against Canada, but still won by 18 points. In the quarterfinal game, the USA won easily against Romania 135–53, with Ruthie Bolton scoring 40 points. The game against China was more of a challenge. The USA team shot poorly, hitting only 36% of their shots, but the defense held China to 35% shooting, and won a three-point game, 79–76. The gold medal match was against Spain, but the USA had a 13-point lead at halftime and won 88–62. Bolton was the highest scorer for the USA team with 14 points per game, but Lisa Leslie and Carolyn Jones were close behind with 13 points per game.
Twelve of VanDerveer's players and assistant coaches have gone on to head coaching positions:
|Name||Most recent head coaching position||Years with VanDerveer|
|Jennifer Azzi||San Francisco (2010–2016)||1987–1990 (player)|
|Beth Burns||San Diego State (1989–1997, 2005–2013)||2004–2005 (strength and conditioning coach)|
|June Daugherty||Washington State (2007–2018)||1985–1989 (assistant coach)|
|Molly Goodenbour||San Francisco (2016–present)||1989–1993 (player)|
|Bobbie Kelsey||Wisconsin (2011–2016)||1992–1996 (player), 2007–2011 (assistant coach)|
|Lindy La Rocque||UNLV (2020–present)||2009–2012 (player), 2017–2020 (assistant coach)|
|Karen Middleton||Western Carolina (2009–2015)||1997–2007 (assistant coach)|
|Nicole Powell||UC Riverside (2020–present)||2000–2004 (player)|
|Julie Rousseau||Pepperdine (2004–2013)||2000–2004 (assistant coach)|
|Charmin Smith||California (2019–present)||1994–1997 (player), 2004–2007 (assistant coach)|
|Charli Turner Thorne||Arizona State (1996–present)||1985–1988 (player)|
|Heidi VanDerveer||UC San Diego (2012–present)||2003–2004 (video coordinator)|
Sources:Idaho, Ohio State, Big Ten, Stanford.
|Idaho Vandals (AIAW independent) (1978–1979)|
|Idaho Vandals (Northwest Empire League) (1979–1980)|
|1979–80||Idaho||25–6||10–2||AIAW First Round|
|Idaho:||42–14 (.750)||10–2 (.833)|
|Ohio State Buckeyes (Big Ten Conference) (1980–1985)|
|1981–82||Ohio State||20–7||3–0||1st||NCAA First Round|
|1983–84||Ohio State||22–7||17–1||1st||NCAA First Round|
|1984–85||Ohio State||28–3||18–0||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|Ohio State:||110–37 (.748)||55–5 (.917)|
|Stanford Cardinal (Pacific West Conference) (1985–1986)|
|Stanford Cardinal (Pac–10 Conference) (1986–1995)|
|1987–88||Stanford||27–5||14–4||3rd||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|1988–89||Stanford||28–3||18–0||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1990–91||Stanford||26–6||16–2||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|1992–93||Stanford||26–6||15–3||1st||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|1993–94||Stanford||25–6||15–3||2nd||NCAA Elite Eight|
|1994–95||Stanford||30–3||17–1||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|Stanford Cardinal (Pac–10/Pac–12 Conference) (1996–present)|
|1996–97||Stanford||34–2||18–0||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|1997–98||Stanford||21–6||17–1||1st||NCAA First Round|
|1998–99||Stanford||18–12||14–4||3rd||NCAA First Round|
|1999–00||Stanford||21–9||13–5||T–2nd||NCAA Second Round|
|2000–01||Stanford||19–11||12–6||T–1st||NCAA Second Round|
|2001–02||Stanford||32–3||18–0||1st||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|2002–03||Stanford||27–5||15–3||1st||NCAA Second Round|
|2003–04||Stanford||27–7||14–4||T–1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|2004–05||Stanford||32–3||17–1||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|2005–06||Stanford||26–8||15–3||1st||NCAA Elite Eight|
|2006–07||Stanford||29–5||17–1||1st||NCAA Second Round|
|2008–09||Stanford||33–5||17–1||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|2010–11||Stanford||33–3||18–0||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|2011–12||Stanford||35–2||18–0||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|2012–13||Stanford||33–3||17–1||T–1st||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|2013–14||Stanford||33–4||17–1||1st||NCAA Final Four|
|2014–15||Stanford||26–10||13–5||T–3rd||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|2015–16||Stanford||27–8||14–4||3rd||NCAA Elite Eight|
|2016–17||Stanford||32–6||15–3||T-2nd||NCAA Final Four|
|2017–18||Stanford||24–11||14–3||2nd||NCAA Sweet Sixteen|
|2018–19||Stanford||31–5||15–3||2nd||NCAA Elite Eight|
|2019–20||Stanford||27–6||14–4||T-2nd||Postseason canceled due to Coronavirus pandemic|
|Stanford:||973–204 (.827)||531–91 (.854)|
Postseason invitational champion
VanDerveer is also an avid piano player. Her sister Heidi VanDerveer, who coached for several years with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm, as well as Occidental College in Los Angeles, is now the head coach at UC San Diego.