The Post-Journal

VanDerveer Loves Her Time Here

The resume of Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer puts her on the very short list of the sport's all-time best.

Heck, she's won nearly 800 games in 31 seasons, including the last 24 in Palo Alto, Calif. where she's led the Cardinal to - deep breath here - two NCAA Championships, eight NCAA Final Four appearances, including a berth in this year's title game, 18 Pacific-10 Conference titles and 22 trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Oh, lest I forget: VanDerveer was also the coach of the 1996 Olympic gold-medal winning team, was the 1990 Naismith National Coach of the Year and a 2002 Women's Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Tara VanDerveer makes a point during her talk at the Scharmann Theatre at Jamestown Community College on Wednesday night. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg.
Tara VanDerveer makes a point during her talk at the Scharmann Theatre at Jamestown Community College on Wednesday night.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg.

But for all those accomplishments she's never forgotten her roots, which just happen to be right here in Chautauqua County. More specifically, VanDerveer owns a home at Chautauqua Institution and was in the middle of her vacation when she happily agreed to speak to the media and a large crowd at Jamestown Community College's Scharmann Theatre on Wednesday night.

''I count this as my 'first and a half home,' '' she said. ''It's wonderful. I've been coming to Chautauqua since I was 8. Yesterday I was in the post office, and even the post office made me happy. (The Institution) is a beautiful place. I love being here. I'm just trying to figure out a way to spend more time here, but that's in the future.''

For now, even though VanDerveer's been coaching collegiate basketball at the highest level for more than three decades, she hasn't lost the passion for a game she came to love while growing up in Western New York, which included summers on the shores of Chautauqua Lake.

''Mr. (Mel) Lewellen was the director of the Boys & Girls Club (at Chautauqua),'' VanDerveer said. ''As a young child you grew up playing with the boys. He promoted health and activity, as Chautauqua did.

''I wasn't as good (as the guys), but in some ways, watching helped.''

So even though she played no organized sports growing up - ''the opportunities are so much different now,'' - VanDerveer ended up playing three years of basketball at Indiana University where she took in all she could on the hardwood, including watching the Bob Knight-coached men's team practice nearly every day.

After graduating from Indiana, VanDerveer's first coaching job was at her sister's high school. To say the program was not very good would be an understatement, but VanDerveer persevered and ultimately landed her first Division I job at Utah. In two seasons, she posted a 42-14 record before heading off to Ohio State where she guided the Buckeyes to a 110-37 mark in five campaigns.

In 1985, she left for Stanford, a program that she has built into one of the nation's elite. In addition to two national titles, she has made the Final Four each of the last three seasons and fell to Connecticut in the championship game this year.

''We always have a date with Connecticut,'' VanDerveer said. ''This year our team was very confident. I thought we played very well in the semifinal game. Unfortunately, our center, Jayne Appel, was hurt and she didn't have the mobility that she needed to have, ... But I'm very proud of our team and how well they played. Just the success we had was very exciting.''

Which leads to the obvious question: Would she consider coaching professionally?

''Sometimes you think, 'Well, that would be bigger and better,' but, number one, to coach in the WNBA it would mean during the summer and I refuse to give up coming to Chautauqua. That's out. I'm not coaching the WNBA. As far as coaching in the NBA, I actually think that would be kind of fun. I know it would be a lot of work. It's all basketball and that would be something that would be interesting, but I'm very happy with the team I have, and coaching the women at Stanford is a great opportunity and challenge for me.''

Nevertheless, don't expect VanDerveer to coach forever.

''I don't see myself being Joe Paterno,'' she said. ''As much I like it, I want to be at Chautauqua for the season. I'm trying to talk (Nancy Bargar, a longtime area friend) to buy a boat with me, I want to be up here using it.''

In VanDerveer's world, there's no place like home.

Prior to her presentation, VanDerveer received a plaque and ring as a 2010 inductee to the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame from its president, Ron Melquist.

"I felt badly I couldn't come (during the basketball season),'' she said. ''I could not risk a flight to Buffalo or into Erie in February, but I was very excited to hear (about the induction). Anytime you're recognized (is great), but these are the people I know the best.''

The Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame, which co-sponsored the event with JCC, also presented a $500 check to Mike Moots, executive director of the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, in VanDerveer's honor.

''Tonight was a celebration of the things we're proud of Chautauqua County for - Chautauqua Institution, Jamestown Community College, basketball and friendship,'' said Randy Anderson, CSHOF vice president.

Keith Martin, the women's basketball coach at JCC, served as the master of ceremonies for the event, which was attended by, among others, the women's coaching staffs of Canisius College, Niagara University and Gannon University, as well as the coaches and players of many area high schools.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.