VanDerveer, Edwards share Hall of Fame spotlight
Tara VanDerveer and Teresa Edwards reached Springfield, Mass., separately, as the individual paths that have brought them to this place are quite different.
Edwards was always a fiery, emotional competitor on the floor, while VanDerveer has been viewed as a cerebral, almost professorial head coach of the Stanford Cardinal.
But they go into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame together Friday night, the first two women inducted in the same class since 2005 and only the second since 1997.
And they go in, in no insignificant measure, because of their common experience -- a huge role on the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics team that won a gold medal and ultimately gave rise to the past 15 years of professional women's basketball in the United States.
VanDerveer walked away from her successful Stanford program to coach the national team for that Olympic year, leading a roster of the country's best players to a 60-0 record.
Edwards was a heart-and-soul player on that game-changing team, a guard with more international experience than any other player in the history of women's basketball.
Theirs is a shared story of success and accomplishment and hard-won respect. In fact, VanDerveer and Edwards both acknowledged that they endured some early tension in their coach-player relationship to get to the happy ending.
"We are both highly competitive people," Edwards said. "The best thing that came out of it was both of us realizing how much alike we were."
And now here they are, driven, unrelenting and preparing for the highest personal honor in basketball.
VanDerveer enters the Naismith Hall of Fame with 826 college coaching victories, two national championships, four national coach of the year honors and her tenure with the Olympic gold-medal winners of 1996.
She is one of five Division I head coaches with more than 800 career wins and her Cardinal program has again become one of the power programs in the college game with four straight trips to the NCAA Final Four.
Edwards is a five-time Olympian with four gold medals, the only player in USA Basketball history -- male or female -- to appear on five Olympic teams.
The former University of Georgia star played two years in the American Basketball League before the league folded in 1999 and played two seasons in the WNBA, in 2003 and 2004.
But it is her international résumé -- she competed for the United States on 19 different teams, won 14 gold medals and compiled a 205-14 record -- that has brought her to Springfield.
VanDerveer was raised as the oldest of four children in upstate New York -- her mother, in fact, was born in Springfield -- while Edwards was the oldest child with four younger brothers, born and raised in Cairo, Ga., the most athletic member of her immediate family.
"I guess I was the abnormal one," Edwards joked.
VanDerveer too drifted off the beaten path when she got the coaching bug while attending Indiana University, showing up at the gym every day to watch Bob Knight run practice while taking copious notes.
She got her first coaching job as a junior varsity coach at Ohio State -- living in a friend's trailer while she worked for little money -- and returned to Columbus as the head coach in 1980, then made her way Stanford in 1986, where she's spent the past 25 years and led the Cardinal to 19 Pac-10 titles.
VanDerveer recently got a letter from Knight, welcoming her to the Hall.
She said she is trying hard to take her enshrinement in stride. But it's not been easy.
"I mean, it's not like it really changes your life," VanDerveer said. "I'm still doing everything I always do. I'm walking my dog, I'm taking out the garbage. But it's a tremendous honor. It's a once in a lifetime thing. I would put it in the same category as coaching the Olympic team. It's only going to happen one time, so I'm really going to enjoy it."
Edwards said it's difficult to stand up and be acknowledged.
"I don't think I know how to receive an honor like this," Edwards said. "Even when we were kids and I won an MVP award, I'm having a hard time leaving my team to get a trophy. I don't think that's changed in me. I'm having to learn how to embrace this."
Edwards now has something else in common with VanDerveer.
She is a first-time head coach after taking over the reins of the WNBA's Tulsa Shock last month. She leaves her struggling team for the weekend -- the Shock has yet to win since Edwards took over in early July -- to tend to this weekend's business in Springfield. Edwards was Tulsa's director of player personnel and moved to the first seat on the bench after Nolan Richardson resigned.
"I am a realist about where I am," Edwards said. "I am learning this stuff. ... I can't say it's not difficult, but I feel good about the fact that I'm not trying to do it as a player in my mind, but as a coach."
Still tamping down emotions, keeping calm and cool, isn't always easy.
"I am trying to mentally strategize," Edwards said. "I'm still competitive, but it's a different spirit. It's all about decision-making. I feel myself dive back into the lessons I got from all the coaches I ever worked with. They are all coming to fruition right now."