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Tara's Humble, Graceful Exit

One of the things I've admired most about Tara VanDerveer is her humility.


So perhaps it wasn't surprising that she announced her retirement on a Tuesday night at 7:35 pm Pacific (10:35 Eastern), the night after the conclusion of the 2024 college basketball season.


Right after the women's championship game had crushed the men's championship in interest and TV viewers, drawing 18.7 million compared to the men's 14.8.


It was the culmination of VanDerveer's 45-year effort to build, nurture and grow the women's game.



Back when she started her coaching career, she had to drive the team bus and do the team laundry. They didn't even pull the bleachers out for the women's games when she arrived at Stanford 39 years ago.


But it took her only six years to build a national championship team at a place that even her father told her not to go, because she'd never win there.


Over the years, she won three NCAA titles, reached 14 Final Fours, and produced a steady stream of great players--Jennifer Azzi, Sonja Henning, Katy Steding, Kate Starbird, Candice Wiggins, Nicole Powell, Jayne Appel, Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Haley Jones, and Cameron Brink, just to name a few.


And she became college basketball's winningest coach of all-time, surpassing Duke's legendary Coach K.


She also served as the conscience of her sport, a respected spokesperson, a mentor to so many young coaches, and a class act who always complimented others and never called out a player.


With the incredible heights the women's game reached this year--thanks to Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, freshmen Juju Watkins and Hannah Hidalgo, and Dawn Staley's blossoming South Carolina dynasty--combined with the unfortunate demise of the conference she helped build into the nation's best in women's basketball, this was the perfect time for her to step down.


In retirement, she won't have to deal with the constant cross country flights Stanford must take next year as a member of the ACC, nor the headaches brought on by NIL and the transfer portal.


Instead, she can play her piano, water ski, walk her dogs, and take great pride and satisfaction in what she helped create.


"I've loved the game of basketball since I was a little girl, and it has given me so much throughout my life," she said in announcing her retirement. "I hope I've been able to give at least a little back."


Characteristically, Tara spent the first 20 minutes of her retirement press conference praising and thanking all the people who have helped her along the way.


A few months ago, on the day she broke Coach K's record, she said to the sold out crowd at Maples Pavilion: "This game of basketball was invented as a team sport. It always has been and always will be a team sport. It is never about one person. And it is not about me."


Lots of fans, players and coaches would beg to differ.

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Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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