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Friday, February 23, 2024
Feb. 23, 2024

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Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer laments ‘heartbreaking’ breakup of Pac-12

Oregon coach Kelly Graves says he hopes to keep hoop rivalry with Stanford going forward

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LAS VEGAS — Growing up in the Bay Area, UCLA coach Cori Close received one of the best lessons of her life.

As a sophomore in high school, Close attended the Tara VanDerveer Basketball Camp.

“It actually totally changed the trajectory of where I was going,” Close said Tuesday during Pac-12 media day. “I went on to play against her in the NCAA Tournament as a player, and now I coach against her. I just think, ‘Man, what would the standards be without a Tara VanDerveer?’ ”

Those standards will next be introduced to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12 and the Big Ten after this season, when 10 Pac-12 schools will head their separate ways.

Stanford, led by VanDerveer since 1985, is joining the ACC.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said VanDerveer, a Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer and the winningest coach in the history of the sport. “I’m in a bad dream. This is a nightmare.”

Imagine how her peers feel.

“That was one of the reasons that attracted me to the Pac,” Arizona State coach Natasha Adair said. “To be able to play in a conference with just esteemed coaches, Hall of Fame coaches, championship coaches — but also to learn from Tara. To be in the same room with her, to be able to ask her questions.”

When injuries decimated the Sun Devils’ roster last season, forcing them to forfeit games because they didn’t have enough healthy players, VanDerveer reached out to Adair.

“Tara called me and said, ‘Coach, it’s going to be OK,’ ” Adair said. “That’s someone who cares about the integrity of the league, that cares about the coaches in the league. And that just speaks to who she is as a person, and why she’s had such an impact and a stellar career.”

VanDerveer said she’ll miss those relationships she’s built and the camaraderie and collective support she enjoys with rivals who are having successful seasons.

“I was so excited for (Washington State coach) Kamie Etheridge and her team to win the Pac-12 Tournament (last season),” VanDerveer said. “Obviously, I wanted our team to win it, but when she goes on to the NCAA Tournament, cheering for them and watching them. Same thing with Utah or any team that you’re playing. The relationship that the coaches have is very special.”

VanDerveer enters Stanford’s final season in the Pac-12 — her 38th with the program — with 1,186 career wins. She’s led the Cardinal to three national championships and 13 Final Four appearances.

Those numbers don’t capture the impact she’s had on the sport. She has brought competition, compassion empathy and — as Close and Oregon coach Kelly Graves said — she’s set an example for others to follow.

“She’s the standard by which the rest of us in the conference and around the nation are judged,” Graves said. “She has done it so well, for so long, set an amazingly high bar for all of us as coaches to coach our teams in a way that is making a life impact.”

Graves said watching VanDerveer elevate the Pac-12 was the reason he took the job at Oregon, saying she was the coach he “wanted to go after and chase.”

“I credit her with the development of our program and I’m gonna miss her,” Graves said. “She’s become a good friend. I think we align on a lot of things. And not that we’re still not going to talk and stuff, but it’s just going to be different.”

Graves said he is hoping Oregon and Stanford can keep their rivalry alive with a nonconference clash that could align with the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge on the men’s side.

VanDerveer’s final media day as a Pac-12 coach was a melancholy occasion. Nonetheless, she took satisfaction in what she helped create.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve built in the Pac 12,” VanDerveer said. “The number of obviously, great teams, great players, tournament success. I don’t know that there’s any other league that has had as many teams go to the NCAA Tournament and be successful going to the Final Four, winning national championships.

“Arguably the greatest players (who) ever played the game have been in our conference and it’s something I’m really proud of.”

POLL PREDICTIONS

Utah was picked to win the Pac-12 by both coaches and the media. The top eight spots were identical in both polls, with the Utes followed by UCLA, Stanford, Colorado, Washington State, USC, Arizona and Oregon. From there, the coaches had Washington, Oregon State, California and Arizona State rounding out their poll. Media members had Oregon State, Washington, Cal and ASU in the final four slots.

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