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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Tara VanDerveer is ready to enjoy her life beyond basketball and thrilled where the sport is now

    Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer, right, is congratulated by forward Kiki Iriafen after breaking the college basketball record for wins, 1,203, following her team's win over Oregon State in a game Jan. 21. VanDerveer, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, announced her retirement Tuesday night after 38 seasons leading the Stanford women’s team and 45 years overall. (Godofredo A. Vásquez/AP File Photo)

    Stanford, Calif. — Tara VanDerveer nearly walked away from coaching 10 years ago before longtime Stanford supporter John Arrillaga asked her to seriously reconsider and insisted she take the summer off.

    What did the Hall of Fame coach do? She listened. She stuck with it. And she enjoyed a much-needed break, a basketball-free stretch during July and August spent sailing and water skiing.

    That invigorated VanDerveer to keep going so much so that she never saw the day coming when she would truly be ready to walk away from the pressure-packed daily grind of recruiting, film study and strategizing.

    “I never really thought I would be,” she said Wednesday, when the all-time winningest basketball coach discussed her decision to retire following an announcement by the school Tuesday night. “I thought maybe I would keel over on the bench because I love it, I love it, I love it.”

    At 70 years old and with 1,216 career victories in stops at Idaho, Ohio State and Stanford — 45 years in all, including the last 38 on The Farm — VanDerveer will stay involved in some capacity; her top assistant coach and former player Kate Paye is poised to take over the program. An introductory news conference for Paye is expected next week once her contract is finalized.

    VanDerveer plays daily games of bridge on the computer with her 96-year-old mother, Rita, and plans “to start studying so I’m better" to be more competitive.

    “I think just wanting to do things you want to do in your life and realizing this is not a dress rehearsal, this is your real life,” VanDerveer shared of her thought process while making the decision. "... I don’t feel like I want to become a hermit or drop off. Coaching is hard work, but it is incredibly rewarding.

    “There is no better job. I’ve lived just a charmed life and I am so fortunate.”

    And she made clear she isn't leaving now because of the dismantling of the Pac-12 Conference and Stanford's move to the ACC. VanDerveer can’t wait to sit with the fans next season — she gave them a shoutout, too — to watch what will always remain her Stanford team.

    Emotional and reflective about all of her talented teams and dynamite players throughout the decades, she took time to thank everybody from her parents — her dad, Dunbar, didn't see a successful coaching path for his daughter — to coaches across the country and in the Pac-12 and on her staff, to former stars like Jennifer Azzi, who was willing to take a chance on the school across the country when she could have stayed home and played for Tennessee.

    Azzi helped lead the Cardinal to their first of three NCAA championships in 1990, and VanDerveer's teams also won in '92 and 2021.

    Yet VanDerveer made sure to mention many other special moments during seasons that didn't involve cutting down the nets at the end and how her student-athletes stayed together and played for each other.

    “I have so many stories of how the people I have coached have motivated me, influenced and inspired me,” she said. “I have learned so much from each player. I'm eternally grateful for having them in my life. I am incredibly proud of the Stanford sisterhood. ... In tough games, the sisterhood is a key to victory.”

    VanDerveer couldn't be happier about the state of women's basketball, with interest now at an all-time high following this year's NCAA Tournament.

    “It is so thrilling to see the support for women’s basketball," she said, "we’re just scratching the surface.”

    And that moment a decade ago when she thought about calling it a career? VanDerveer said she actually contemplated it about 20 different times in all since arriving at Stanford in 1985.

    Instead, it is where she made lifelong friendships. VanDerveer kept adapting along the way, cherishing “the journey,” as she always called it and remaining "a lifelong learner" who loved to observe and even copy how others succeeded.

    And, she always kept in mind one thing when it came to how she cared for those around her:

    “I wanted to be a coach that I would want to play for,” she said. “Someone who works very hard to give our team the best chance of being successful, along with a person who demonstrates empathy and compassion through the game of basketball.”

    No arguing she did all of those things, and did them with heart and soul.

    Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, left, celebrates with her players, including Karlie Samuelson, second from left, Erica McCall, center, and Briana Roberson, after her 1,000th career coaching win following an NCAA college basketball game against Southern California on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. VanDerveer, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, announced her retirement Tuesday night, April 9, 2024, after 38 seasons leading the Stanford women’s team and 45 years overall. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
    Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer waves to the crowd after breaking the college basketball record for wins, 1,203, following her team's win over Oregon State in an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, in Stanford, Calif. VanDerveer, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, announced her retirement Tuesday night, April 9, 2024, after 38 seasons leading the Stanford women’s team and 45 years overall. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez, File)
    In this March 5, 2017, file photo, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer waves the net after finishing cutting it down after her team beat Oregon State in the Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college basketball game in Seattle.. VanDerveer, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history, announced her retirement Tuesday night, April 9, 2024, after 38 seasons leading the Stanford women’s team and 45 years overall. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

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