Final Four coaches, players learn to mesh well
There were moments, back in the day, when Diana Taurasi seemed like an extension of her coach, Geno Auriemma.
The two were well matched in personality, passion and an absolute will to win. The result was three NCAA titles for Connecticut.
Tara VanDerveer's studious, deliberate approach to the game, with a focus on details and preparation, seems to be a perfect fit for a player such as Kayla Pedersen, who has proved to be one of the steadiest, most consistently productive players in the nation the past four years.
Is this a chicken-and-the-egg phenomenon?
Do players show up as their own people, and end up reflecting the personality and style of their coach? Are they naturally drawn to a good fit in the first place? Or can a coach and his/her players be on different personality pages and still get the job done?
The teams and coaches in the women's Final Four are a mix of all of the above, finding their own ways to win.
Auriemma said he "doesn't have a lot in common" with the players on his current team. But it seems to be going pretty well anyway. His Huskies are at the Final Four for the fourth straight year.
"We get along great, and I love every one of them. They're all -- they're all great, great kids that I enjoy spending time with," Auriemma said. "But, you know, Kelly Faris, Maya Moore, even Bria [Hartley], they're very quiet kids, very quiet, very reserved in so many ways. Stefanie is a little more outgoing. But this team's pretty low key."
Auriemma speculates that vibe kept the Huskies at an even keel through a grinding season that included the NCAA-record win streak, the Stanford loss, injuries and one of the nation's toughest schedules.
"They're really low key. They're not highly emotional. So we play off each other pretty well," Auriemma said. "They calm me down, and I get them riled up every once in a while. I think it's a good combination."
VanDerveer is viewed as one of the most professorial figures in the game. Her players come in as high-caliber students, possessing loads of "basketball intelligence."
There seems to be a natural fit for the Cardinal players and their coach.
"I hope they take on the good aspects of my personality," VanDerveer said. "They care about each other, and I care about our team and the players as individuals. They are positive and encouraging, and I think our coaches are positive and encouraging. And the kids hold themselves accountable, and I think we hold them accountable."
It all comes down to establishing a culture, VanDerveer said.
"Culture can be a fragile thing, but when your leaders and your best players are your hardest workers, that can be a good thing," VanDerveer said. "I always want my players to see me working as hard as they are."
Pedersen said she can see the similarities between VanDerveer's approach to the game and that of her teammates.
"Tara is a very calculated person, and because of that, I think we tend to overanalyze things," Pedersen said. "I think we are a dedicated and focused group anyway, but I think the expectation was that we need to be focused at all times. Sit up straight in your stool while you watch video and make sure you really get it."
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said her current team is more a reflection of captain Becca Bruszewski than of her.
"I think we're all extremely competitive. I think our entire staff and players all share that. We're fighters, we're competitive, we're intense, we want to win," McGraw said. "But this team is much looser than any team I've ever had, which is not really a reflection of my personality. I think they're outgoing and have fun, and they're very, very boisterous and passionate on the court. They show their emotions on the court in a way that's a lot different than the teams we've had in the past that were a little more businesslike."
Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said he goes out and recruits players who like to play the way he likes to play, matching his unorthodox style.
"I'm an offensive coach. I believe in pressure. Pressure defense, pressure offense, attack mode," Blair said. "The most boring thing to me is somebody that runs a flex offense or somebody that sits in a 2-3 zone for the 40 minutes. It's boring.
"And I want to attack, whether we zone it or man it or trap it or full-court press it, that's just my style. ... Kids want to play our style of ball because it also helps advance their game to that next level."