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March 28, 2017
RICK NIXON: Good morning and good afternoon, welcome to today's Women's Final Four head coaches media teleconference. For the next several minutes, you'll have the opportunity to visit with the head coach of the Stanford Cardinal, Tara VanDerveer. Stanford is playing in its 13th Final Four and is pursuing a third national championship.
Before we get to your questions this afternoon, Tara, if you would, just a word of welcome, your thoughts on coming to Dallas, being a participant in this year's Final Four.
COACH VanDERVEER: Thank you.
Our team is very excited. I think we've worked really hard. This has been a really fun team for me to work with. I'm really proud of the growth and development of our players. I really thank our staff for doing such a great job, our assistant coaches and staff.
This is an incredibly close team. They were really looking forward to coming to Dallas.
RICK NIXON: Thank you, Tara. We'll start taking questions.
Q. Tara, you have an association with Dawn Staley dating back to the 1990 Final Four when she played for Virginia and Stanford won its first national championship. You coached her on the Olympic team. What traits do you see in the team she coaches that you recognize from her days as a player?
COACH VanDERVEER: Dawn is extremely competitive. She's a competitive person, coach, player. She's very intelligent. She's very passionate about basketball. I see all of these things, having coached her and known her for, I guess, about 30 years. I started as a high school coach, too.
All these things contribute to her outstanding job as a coach at South Carolina and our future Olympic coach.
Q. Tara, can you put in perspective, you and Coach Auriemma both took over your respective positions back in 1985. You both coached against Dawn when she was a player. Now all three of you are going to be at the Final Four, have this Olympic connection as well with her taking over as national team coach. It has a historical feeling, all three of you being there together. Can you reflect on that a little bit.
COACH VanDERVEER: Well, I loved coaching Dawn. First of all, playing against her, we played in the 1990 Final Four. Virginia, Stanford and Connecticut were also in the '91 Final Four. Then we played against Dawn again in the 1992 Final Four semifinal game. Both were semifinal games for us.
We do have a long history together, and a long history the three of us. Even Dawn and Geno go further back being at Virginia.
I think it just points to the fact that you have people that stick with things, really love the game of basketball, are passionate about it. Dawn has gone from being a passionate player to a passionate teacher and coach.
It will be very exciting to be in Dallas with Dawn and Geno.
Q. Talking about your team, the way that it's developed. It just seems like this is a team that has gotten better as the season's gone along. Everybody talks about doing that, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes teams do peak in February. It seems like this is a team that's found itself as the year has gone along. Can you address maybe why that is. When did you sort of feel like this team has a chance to do what it's doing?
COACH VanDERVEER: I think in the beginning of the year, the goal was to win the Pac-12. We didn't win the regular season. But there were certain goals we had. We had boxes we were able to check off, whether it was our team wanted to win a thousand games for me. When they wrote that down, I thought, This is a group that I say gets it.
I think the reason that they've improved, the reason we're in the place that we're in, there's a couple of things. Number one, we have great senior leadership on this team. This team is extremely close. They play hard, with each other. They're extremely unselfish. They're hard-working. They're in the gym early. They don't care who gets the credit. They're very excited for each other. They want to continue playing with each other.
As the season went on, we just got better and better and/or confident. Different people are stepping up for us. That's why we're in the situation we're in.
Q. Tara, when you look at South Carolina, what in your opinion do you think they do really, really well? How would you try to approach attacking what they do really, really well?
COACH VanDERVEER: Well, I think they do a lot of things really well. They have an elite player in A'ja Wilson. They get her the ball. She is a big presence down low. They run well. I think they're a very well-coached team. They rebound, they're an elite rebounding team. You have a low block presence, a great rebounding team, you have people that are moving the ball. They're fantastic one-on-one players.
All of them put the ball on the floor really well. I think you're going to be challenged defensively, you're going to be challenged offensively because they're athletic and long. You have to rebound the ball.
I think on every front, they are an excellent, excellent team.
Q. Tara, I wanted to ask about your impressions of Marta's developments from year one to this point in her career.
COACH VanDERVEER: I think that she's helping us. I think she had a great freshman year. I think she's helping us where she is, much more mature this year. She is a floor leader. She is a fantastic passer. She really understands the game of basketball. She's also someone that, for me, I can be extremely direct with her. I don't sugarcoat anything with Marta. Sometimes I need someone to be hard on. She gets that.
But she, whether she's in the game, she might make mistakes. She might be upset. But she really stays engaged mentally. She really focuses. She's a very intelligent basketball player. She really understands things.
So if she makes a mistake, I'm always shocked when she makes a mistake out there. Marta, you knew not to do that, knew not to go under that screen.
But she's a really, really smart player, incredibly unselfish. I like how she's worked really hard on her defense.
Q. What was the recruitment of her like, trying to convince a player from the opposite coast to come out across the country and play basketball?
COACH VanDERVEER: Well, we've had a history of a lot of kids coming from the East Coast. I think one thing for Marta was she really was serious about academics. She's not sure if she wants to go to medical school. But I think she really loves the challenge of the elite athletics and elite academics. That's the situation she was in when she was at National Cathedral. She was at a great school that also had really good sports.
She's a terrific athlete, a soccer player and basketball player, as you probably know. But I think it also helped that we have direct flights (laughter).
Q. Coach, I'm sure you're happy to spend a couple days at home. How much has this felt like a three-week road trip? Is anybody happy it's finally in Dallas, with Karlie and Katie Lou?
COACH VanDERVEER: You know, for us, it's not just been three. We went on the road to Oregon, then on the road to the Pac-12 tournament, then we went to Kansas, then we had some mechanical problems, we went directly to Kentucky. We came back one day, got back Sunday night, leaving today to go to Dallas.
The reason that it works is because this team and staff get along so well. I mean, we really enjoy being with each other. It's fun.
I mean, our bus broke down. We laugh and have fun. Just say, Hey, nothing's going to get us down. That's the kind of team you want to coach. I'm really enjoying it.
As far as Katie Lou and Karlie playing together, I think it's great for the Samuelson family they don't have to split up. But we want to give them a dilemma. They want to be in the championship game. If we end up playing Connecticut, I hope her parents will root for us in that game because they have two more years to root for Katie Lou.
Q. Tara, of all the teams you've taken to the Final Four, wouldn't you consider this the most team-oriented team?
COACH VanDERVEER: Yes. This is a blue-collar team in the proud tradition of Jim Harbaugh. This is a put on your boots, put on your hardhat, bring your lunch bucket. This is that kind of team.
I have never been any prouder of a team than I am proud of this team, and happy for this team.
Q. Tara, I wonder if you could kind of sum up what would be the key points and development of Brittany McPhee? She's really come on here as probably your top scorer now in the tournament. She looks like she's hungry to score, but she's a great all-around player now.
COACH VanDERVEER: Right. Well, you know, I think coming into this year, in the fall, quite honestly, we needed Brit out there. Karlie got hurt. Even in the fall practices, I mean, a lot of things. Brit got a lot of opportunity. I think that's been the big difference. Her opportunity of getting the ball.
This team moves the ball. It's coming to her more. She's able to take advantage of it, knocking down the three, going to the basket. She's a worker, number one. She's in the gym early, she stays late. She's improved her defense and her passing. Really she's improved her basketball IQ. She studies the game. She's always loved the game of basketball.
She's gone from being a great high school player to now becoming a great college player through her hard work and her coachability.
I think more than anything in the tournament, she's gained a lot of confidence. She's playing with supreme confidence right now. It's really exciting.
Q. Tara, what is your schedule today? Are you flying out right after practice?
COACH VanDERVEER: Yes, we had yesterday off. People were able to just relax. We're done with finals. I think they just had a nice day.
Our team watched the game last night in the locker room. Had Chinese food. They were I'm sure just really enjoying being together.
We're practicing right now. They're warming up. We're practicing today. We leave at 1:00. We're the first team off in the morning for interviews and everything. We'll be ready to go.
Q. Tara, with you and Dawn, when she first got into coaching, she wasn't sure she wanted to do it. She was still playing at that time in the WNBA. Did you sense, even when you were coaching her with the national team, that that was going to be her destiny, that she was going to coach?
COACH VanDERVEER: Well, I didn't know it was her destiny. If she went into it, I knew she would be really good.
First of all, she understands the game of basketball. She sees the floor really well. As a player, she was a tremendous passer. She's a tremendous competitor. I think those things, understanding the game, teaching the game.
I think Dawn, if she was going to do it, I knew she would be really good. I'm so proud of her and so happy for her. Honestly, I wish we weren't playing them. I root for her and their team.
But, you know, I think she's done a terrific job. I think Dawn also knows that she doesn't know it all. She surrounds herself with really capable assistant coaches. It's always about trying to do the best job for her team.
Q. You mentioned being proud of this team. You've made reference before. Is this a team that reminds you most of that '92 bucket of bolts team?
COACH VanDERVEER: It does, it does, yeah. There's just a lot of coincidences with that team. We're excited about this team. I don't know that I've coached a team that's any closer than this team, you know, 13 players.
This is not a start-studded team. We have players that are really good at certain things, and they've got to do those things. But they understand their role, and they embrace their role. The unselfishness, just the team cohesiveness is something that you can't teach and you can't coach. It kind of has happened.
I told our team today when we were in our team circle, I said, Maybe 10 years from now, 20 years from now you'll look back and understand what you have. But let me tell you, it's something very special.
Q. In regard to South Carolina, when they lost Coates, their center inside, Kaela Davis is a 6'2" guard that has asserted her game a lot. What have you seen from her and what challenges does she present? They are a different-looking team than they were in the earlier part of the season.
COACH VanDERVEER: We kind of had to do the same thing with Notre Dame. Obviously South Carolina had more time to adjust to it. They went from basically a two-post team to a four-around-one team. They're more athletic. They spread the floor a little bit more.
They have this anchor inside. They can go to Wilson. I mean, she is shooting like 60%. They might not have the same depth, and obviously they're better with Coates, but they're really good without her, too. Like you said, Davis has stepped up, and other players kind of filled that void.
People asked about Brittany McPhee. The cork comes off the champagne and other people bubble up. That's what Davis is doing.
Q. Tara, what kind of recruitment, if at all, did you do for Katie Lou Samuelson? Could you share how that went, why you think she ultimately decided to go across the country.
COACH VanDERVEER: Well, Katie Lou, her two older sisters were at Stanford. We recruited her. She made the decision. You'd have to ask her. It was totally her decision.
We wish her well. Obviously the team is doing well. But we recruited her just like we recruited Karlie or Bonnie or any of the players that are on our team.
Q. Coach, it's the first trip to the Final Four in a little while in terms of you only have three players that have been there before. What do you think this experience is like for them being back a second time, and for your first-timers who are experiencing all this, especially with all the media attention they'll have to deal with?
COACH VanDERVEER: Well, you know, I don't think it's bad for women's basketball that other teams have been going. Obviously, we want to go. But I think it just shows, we went in 2014, and I think having gone, I don't know, six or seven years out of the 10 years, I'm very proud of the fact that we've been going a lot.
Our seniors are very excited to go back. Our freshmen and underclassmen are really excited to see what it's like. We want to have a great time there. I think the fact that the older kids have been there will help the younger kids. I think it's a good bridge for them to say, Hey, this is what to expect, this is what you do. It will be fun for all of them.
RICK NIXON: Thanks again, Tara. Safe travels. We look forward to seeing you there.
COACH VanDERVEER: We'll be on our way down there later on today. Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports