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,”
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.”