Stanford coaching staff does its homework

This season, espnW is spending time with the Stanford Cardinal and Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, getting behind-the-scenes access to the players. Come to espnW every Friday throughout the season to get to know the Cardinal and how they live their lives off and on the court, from the start of practice to the final game of the season in March and, perhaps, into April.

STANFORD, Calif. -- The clock reads 12:30 on a weekday afternoon in the women's basketball suite at Stanford, meaning it's time to get to work. It's just three days since the Cardinal hung on to beat Oregon State at home, a lackluster effort that coach Tara VanDerveer called a "wakeup call."

VanDerveer's staff is indeed busy, all with their own assignments.

Assistant coaches Kate Paye and Trina Patterson sit in their offices finishing their scouting reports for the weekend road games against Utah and Colorado, the two newest entrants to the Pac-12 Conference. Associate head coach Amy Tucker is on the phone, working out some recruiting details, while video director Lauren Greif is finishing the final cut of yesterday's practice.

Administrative assistant Dee Dee Zawaydeh, who has worked with VanDerveer for more than a decade, is in the office of Eileen Roche, the assistant athletic director of basketball operations, discussing travel details about the team's upcoming trip and getting a head start on an early February trip to Arizona.

Don Feria/isiphotos.com

Tara VanDerveer listens to feedback from assistant coach Kate Paye. Paye played for VanDerveer from 1992-95. She's been back as an assistant since 2007.

And VanDerveer rolls into the office with her lunch and a satchel full of notes, as the staff is getting ready for its prepractice meeting. The rhythm of their days has returned to a familiar groove, with the start of the academic quarter and the students back on campus.

Their lives, coaches and players alike, are all about scheduling: knowing when to practice, meet, play and prepare all over again for the next game. And there has been a welcome change -- the women's team has swapped practice times with the men's team for the remainder of the season. Instead of going from 1-4 p.m., the women will practice from 4-7 p.m. That means more time to prepare and meet before practices.

VanDerveer grabs a soda out of the refrigerator in her office. The wrong soda, as it turns out. She ended up with a Diet Coke, force of habit. The coach has sworn off Diet Coke after a years-long devotion. Now it's diet ginger ale instead.

She leaves the open soda on the conference room table for Paye.

"That's Kate's drink now," VanDerveer says, pulling her lunch out of the bag.

Peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread. Two apples. Honey wheat pretzels.

So, about the PB&J, Coach ...

"I have it every day," VanDerveer says. "It's easy and it's good."

The coach chats for a few minutes before her staff gathers for the big meeting, talking about how much she admires 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who spent four seasons at Stanford and is leading the 49ers into their first playoff game since 2003.

It's big news in the Bay Area, where the glow of the San Francisco Giants' 2010 World Series title has faded.

The two struck up a friendship during Harbaugh's time on The Farm and they still keep in touch. They last spoke just a few days ago. Harbaugh's wife is going to start taking piano lessons from VanDerveer's teacher.

"I love how he coaches," VanDerveer said. "I have learned things from him about how he relates to his players. Those guys will run through a wall for him."

She recalls taking a trip to Monterey for an alumni gathering a few weeks after Harbaugh was hired as Stanford's football coach in December 2006. It was supposed to be a leisurely trip. She went down with a friend, took a walk on the beach, and then went to the hotel to listen to the new coach speak.

"He got up there and he spoke about how the team was going to win right away and he fired me up," VanDerveer said. "I think he's a great coach."

Her staff begins to file into the room for the prepractice meeting. Greif is hooking up her laptop to the video monitor on the wall. The conference table is strewn with binders and laptops and lunch items such as Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, pita chips and salad.

The meeting begins with a brief update on a potential recruit and follows with a conversation about which lineups the coaches would like to see in practice, mixing and mingling players to find potentially successful combinations.

The fourth-ranked Cardinal are not exactly in trouble, sitting on a 13-1 record. But Saturday's showing, a 67-61 win over the Beavers, might call for a lineup shake-up.

VanDerveer reviews a new offensive set she installed last week and gets lukewarm feedback from her staff. She turns to the white board to sketch it out.

"I hate when my new ideas are stupid," she says dryly.

The meeting is a nearly two-hour dialogue about the current state of the Cardinal, including frank player evaluations, good-natured ribbing and give-and-take among the staff with a healthy dose of debate.

Tucker has been on the Stanford staff since VanDerveer arrived at Stanford in 1986. Paye played for VanDerveer from 1992-95, a reserve guard on the 1992 national championship team. She's been back as an assistant since 2007.

Patterson is the newcomer, hired in the offseason after Bobbie Kelsey -- another former Stanford player -- left to take her first head-coaching job at Wisconsin.

It is Patterson's job to round up the male practice players. She reports that she has a handful coming to Tuesday evening's practice.

The staff watches film of the team's Monday practice, evaluating players and plays, including one of the team's newer defensive looks, which Tucker opines might not "be ready for prime time yet."

Utah is next on the monitor. The Utes are a team that has appeared on Stanford's schedule as a nonconference and NCAA opponent in recent years, including last season. Utah shows a lot of offensive looks and Paye has taken charge of the scouting. She narrows the scope of the things the team will go over in practice Tuesday and Wednesday morning before the Cardinal travel to Salt Lake City in the afternoon.

Colorado is Saturday's opponent and an unfamiliar one. Stanford hasn't played the Buffaloes since the 2002 NCAA tournament.

Patterson has scouted Colorado.

"Good thing they do a lot of the same things," VanDerveer said.

Zawaydeh pops her head in to tell VanDerveer that freshman guard Amber Orrange is here for her 3 p.m. meeting.

The bag of pita chips is empty and the coaches head back to their offices, some of them with their own one-on-one meetings with players.

The team practiced from 4-7 p.m. and then went to the dining hall for training table.

VanDerveer went home and put on the Utah video again. But the basketball-junkie coach couldn't help but be temporarily distracted.

"And then I started watching the Warriors," said VanDerveer, referring to Golden State's overtime win over the Miami Heat. "That was an exciting game."

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