VanDerveer’s new-look Stanford roster ready to run

When Tara VanDerveer told her players to get on the baseline,

Chiney Ogwumike figured the Cardinal were about to run sprints.

Instead, the Hall of Fame Stanford coach began teaching the proper

technique of a jab step.

It seemed so basic. Yet Ogwumike and her senior sister,

Nnemkadi, know that each tiny detail and fundamental could make the

difference come March for a young roster featuring six


After all, these two both spent the summer working to become

better midrange threats by perfecting their 15-foot jump shots.

They should be getting their share of lay-ins, too, for what

VanDerveer expects to be one of her most up-tempo and talented

running teams yet.

She will get to see for the first time Friday night, when the

fifth-ranked Cardinal open the season at No. 24 Texas.

Forget that image of the typical Stanford team setting up its

half-court offense and pounding the ball inside to the posts.

VanDerveer’s new-look lineup can run the floor and defend

full-court. What a change for the school’s 26th-year coach, who

last season joined the elite 800 wins club and then in August was

enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

”Now we’re looking at our team and going: `Wow, these guards

are quick. We can break people down, we can do more pick and roll,

they can handle the ball in traffic,” VanDerveer said.

”Athletically, it just feels like we’re so much at the other end

of athleticism, where we’re like, `OK, wow, they’ve got this

quickness, how do we deal with quickness?”’

This might be the star sisters’ last shot playing together, and

they plan to do all they can to bring home that elusive national

championship – for VanDerveer, for everybody. Stanford hasn’t won

it all since capturing the 1992 NCAA title despite reaching the

last four Final Fours.

Last spring, the Cardinal fell 63-62 to eventual champion Texas

A&M in the national semifinals. That made for the fourth tough

flight home from the Final Four in as many years.

”The most important thing to me, although it was a

heartbreaking loss, it put a lot of things in perspective,” Chiney

said. ”In basketball, at the end of the year, there’s only one

team that’s going to come out winning. Whatever happens this year,

it’s going to be a journey. This may be the last time I play with

her, this may not be. Nneka and I are experiencing it as the best

year we can make it as possible.”

The opener Friday marks the start of yet another daunting

non-conference schedule that also includes games with Gonzaga, Old

Dominion, Xavier, Tennessee, and, of course, Connecticut. The

Cardinal will travel East to take on the Huskies on Nov. 21 after

snapping top-ranked UConn’s record 90-game winning streak with a

thrilling 71-59 victory at Maples on Dec. 30.

”It’s going to be tough early but I’m very confident,”

VanDerveer said.

Nneka Ogwumike led the Cardinal in scoring at 17.5 points per

game last season, while conference freshman of the year Chiney

scored 11.7 per game and shared the Cardinal’s rebounding lead with

an 8.0 average on the boards.

The Ogwumikes want to make their likely last hurrah together


”I cannot believe that,” Nneka said of being a senior. ”I’m

like the last person (still here).”

Stanford went 33-3 last season and 17-0 at home, where the

Cardinal are riding a school-record 63-game winning streak. That

run will be tested for the first time Sunday against Gonzaga.

The 11-time reigning Pac-10 champion is favored to capture the

inaugural Pac-12 crown, with Bay Area neighbor California doing its

best to make a push in new coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s first


”We know that we’re capable of it,” Nneka Ogwumike said of

getting back to the Final Four and once again chasing a

championship. ”It’s a long way away, but every day we think about

what we really want and the journey to get there. We work hard

every day to make that journey worthwhile.”

With so many new faces, the Cardinal have been working to

develop a chemistry during the early weeks – something that never

needed much work in recent years. The Ogwumikes, who have two

younger sisters back home in Texas, have done their part to help

the freshmen along.

Stanford lost Kayla Pedersen and Jeanette Pohlen from last

season’s Final Four team.

”It’s different from last year, when we had several

upperclassmen and things were kind of set in stone,” Nneka said.

”You don’t really know what’s going to happen. It also helps me to

be able to step up and kind of coach people myself because you have

to have people on the court who know what they’re doing to be able

to get people to know what they’re doing.”

That also has meant more teaching and nurturing for VanDerveer,

who said there were plenty of tears in practice early on while

bringing along all the new players.

”It’s been interesting to see two sides of Tara,” Chiney said,

”which is pretty neat because it shows she’s willing to do

whatever it takes to make us a team and build a team.”