March 27, 1997
TARA VAN DERVEER: Our team is excited to be here. We are playing the best basketball of the season at this point and looking forward to playing Old Dominion. I think today was a good practice for us. We are a little travel weary coming from Montana but very excited and looking forward to our game tomorrow night.
Q. Hi. You guys have been so focused on getting here. Now you are here, are you enjoying it? Have you had the time to enjoy the process. You are on such a mission.
JAMILA WIDEMAN: Yes. You know, it is such a great event. It has been really exciting. It is all kind of overwhelming at first. But I think if you get caught up in just your goal of getting there, you don't stop to enjoy it along the way. Then I'm not sure it is really worth it. It is definitely a great time.
Q. Tara, Scott from San Francisco Chronicle. Talk about the running game a little bit and have you kicked that game up a notch in the last couple of years, with even more emphasis on the run and conditioning and that kind of stuff?
TARA VAN DERVEER: It has been a great part of basketball at Stanford. I think with the players that we have, I feel they are very disciplined and motivated and will train in the off season. A running game in the something that you can start October 15th. You have to have people that are committed to it all year long. I think that we have brought it up a notch and more so with our post players. But I really feel that a lot of our players for the last, especially five or six years, are committed to playing transition basketball. That's not to say that we are not doing other things too, but it is something that I think is a trademark of our team, that our transition, our fast break, is something that our fans really enjoy watching.
Q. Phillip with the New York Daily News. Tara, this is something I'm asking all the coaches. This is the first time since 1982 that all women coaches are here at the Final Four. I wonder if you could sort of put that in perspective and maybe say whether you think it is significant.
TARA VAN DERVEER: I think it is good in that a lot of times people don't think maybe that women are really capable, that they are not leaders. I just know this from, as example, going to Russia and training over there with a team, that they would always say, well, how can the Americans not have a male coach? I think it is something -- I don't know that it is significant, but it is good for young women to see that women can be very successful. Because this is so visible, I think there has to be some inspiration for some young women. And many coaches have men's models in men's basketball and some say that there is not the same thing in women's basketball, too. I wouldn't say it is the story to have the tournament, but it is a footnote.
Q. Is it a column?
TARA VAN DERVEER: I guess it's a column.
Q. This is the Detroit Free Press. Kristin's addition to the team, did you have to talk her into it and what it meant to the team?
TARA VAN DERVEER: My first conversation was with Jamila and then she met with the four seniors. I didn't want to disrupt the chemistry of this team, which is a very special team. The problem was, we had so many injuries. Heather was going to be out 3 weeks with her hand in a cast. Naomi was out. Olympia had a double root canal. And I feel so strongly about our seniors and the commitment that they have made to our program. Jamila, Kate, Charmin. I wanted to give them the best chance of having a great senior year. This was just an idea I had. I talked to them about it. And I think they really felt that Kristin's addition would help our team, and I think it definitely has. I think it takes a special person and Kristin is a special person. She has gotten tremendous help from the other players on the team. You could have a situation where there would be some jealousy or maybe undercurrent but I haven't noticed that at all. I think they enjoyed having both Kristin and Paula on the team.
Q. Tara, how different do you think this Stanford team is from the first time you faced ODU this year?
TARA VAN DERVEER: Physically I don't know that we are a lot different, but I know that we are very different mentally. You know, there are a lot of different things to go into one basketball game. At that particular time, Old Dominion played extremely well and I think we played very poorly. I think we have learned a lot since then. We have improved a lot. I think we have people that are very focused and are really working hard to get ready for the game. Obviously we want a different outcome. I think a big part of it, I'm different, too. I learned a lot in that game and learned a lot from our players, and how we handle adversity. That was our first major adversity in terms of a loss. We also, I think, had the injuries that got our team closer. I said at the time to our team, and I really believe this, that it happened for a reason. I think the reason was to get our attention. Now I think we will come out tomorrow with a lot different mindset than if we had beaten them the first time around.
Q. Washington Press. Since the advent of the WBA and the -- if you had to deal with a few things as a coach that men were doing for a long time, stats and in your particular case, how have you had to deal with that, Kate?
TARA VAN DERVEER: My situation, I think that actually it helped me a lot with the USA National Team and being around the professional athletes that I dealt with all of last year, and meeting a lot of the agents and talking with representatives of different shoe companies. So, I kind of felt very comfortable talking and seeing these people again. I think they have, from what I know, they have been very respectful. They have their job to do and they want to recruit someone like Kate and Jamila to the respective leagues. But they have let them have their season and have not bombarded them, as far as I know, with any type of phone calls or pressure or anything like that. I think it has been very motivating for our team and for our players, some of our really good players, they want to play at the next level. When some of the younger players see the attention that someone like Kate or Jamila gets, I think that will help them in the off season to get in the gym and do some of the work out that is maybe they wouldn't have done otherwise.
KATE STARBIRD: Definitely, right now we are concentrating on Stanford basketball. We have noticed all these leagues out there and everything, all the attention. It is pretty exciting. I think our class is spoiled in that we know that there will be opportunities for us to play next year in the United States. I feel really lucky. I haven't put a lot of thought in what I will be -- which league or whatever, because I've been concentrating on Stanford basketball. But I do feel the excitement around women's basketball in the college level and the pros now.
Q. Dick Patrick, USA Today. A question for the two players. Could you talk about the importance of the season and how the title has been a goal since day one in your two previous trips here?
JAMILA WIDEMAN: The way I would describe it, we have a great sense of urgency this year. We are not coming back, no matter what happens the next couple of days. Having been here before and had a taste of the semifinal game twice now, you know, there is nothing that I have wanted more since the day we lost last year than to put ourselves back in a position to win the game tomorrow night. And that's where our focus has been all year and continues to be.
Q. This question is for Tara. I'm from the Baltimore Sun. Part of the problem that Old Dominion has had in the post season, their running game has been taken away from them. As I understand, you guys want to run. Do you feel like getting in a track meet with them tomorrow?
TARA VAN DERVEER: What I found works is that you do what you have done all year. The national tournament, whether it is the NCAA regionals or finals, we will do what we have done all year, and that includes playing a very up tempo game. You have to adjust to whatever the other teams are doing. So, if they are in a situation where they are going to try to do whatever they will do and I have no idea what that's going to be, we will play our style and we are going to play up tempo. If we are in a situation where we need half court offense, we will do that. If we are in a situation where we press or trap, whatever fits the game within our framework of what we do, we will do.
Q. For Jamila. Your counterpart at ODU described what she does at your position as "we drive the sheep." I just wondered, how would you go about describing what you do?
JAMILA WIDEMAN: Driving the sheep? Well, I guess I'd say, you know, I could think of a couple of cliches, to quarterback. What else? Pretty much the coach on the floor is the way to say it. I think we have some of the teams in the sense that we have a strong perimeter game as well as a post game and to try to fit the two parts together comes down to the point guard's job. And especially in a game like tomorrow's, as Tara said, it is going to be important to control the pace of the game. Since the point guard has the ball in her hands for most of the time, that responsibility will fall on us. I think also especially in a NCAA tournament game, especially the Final Four, it is the team that can relax first and get into a groove that puts themselves in a good position to win. And I think a lot of that has to do with being confident and taking care of the ball. I think that starts with the point guard as well.
Q. Tara, can you talk about the last 30 minutes of the Georgia game, and if you can recall any of your teams of past years playing at that level?
TARA VAN DERVEER: Well, like the -- I like the last 30 better than the first ten. I thought we played really well, pushing the ball really well, I thought we made good decisions. But the thing that I liked the best was our defense and our rebounding. I have seen other teams -- other teams or just this team?
Q. Your great teams.
TARA VAN DERVEER: We played at that level before.
Q. This is Liz Robbins from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. First for Tara. When Larry called Kate one of the finest basketball players of all times, I wonder if you can elaborate on why she made that, and Kate, your reaction. We could see your reaction but can you also talk about your reaction.
TARA VAN DERVEER: I think that's a great compliment. Now how will I yell at her defense tomorrow? Kate is a great player and what makes her a great player, first of all, it is a work ethic, her motivation. She is extremely coachable. She is someone that always wants to improve. She is very unselfish. Just in a lot of ways she is subtle, although you still get her 30 points. How did she do that? I guess I just want two more great games for Kate, not just for her, but for our team. And she is someone that, when I leave the gym after games, sometimes I just think, gosh, how is it going to get any better? How will I coach players that are better than Jamila or better than Kate. Thank goodness Kate is an inspiration for a lot of young girls, and maybe one of them will come to Stanford some day. But she is really special. You know, I think it is hard to compare players. She is someone that I'm really happy is playing at Stanford, someone I really enjoyed coaching and someone who has shown over and over the thing that she really does. She is very consistent. She is someone you can depend on. I'm really -- I'm going to miss her a lot when this is all said and done.
KATE STARBIRD: I'm flattered. I think, again, I have been really lucky at Stanford. I think obviously for me it was the best choice I could have made. Obviously these the only thing I've done right and the rest of it, I think, the teams that I've been able to play on. Especially this year, just amazing teammates, and I think that has more to do with the attention I have received than anything I have done, the caliber of team I've been able to play on. I feel really lucky. I'd like to be one of those great players that comes away with a national championship ring.
Q. Kate, can we have an ankle update? Do you have any pain? Can you give us a percentage of where you think you are right now?
KATE STARBIRD: It is pretty solid. I practiced yesterday, full go. I went to the full practice and I've been able to go hard on since I hurt it. So I feel like I'm almost fully better now.
Q. Tara, the obvious difference from your last game at Old Dominion is Kristin. How much of an impact do you expect her to make in this particular matchup and have you been surprised at all at her level of playing, through the whole tournament? Can you talk about that a little bit?
TARA VAN DERVEER: Well, the only major change in our roster is Kristin. I don't think that that's even close to describing kind of where we are as a team. Physically she is out a lot, but I think that our team has really come a long way since then in terms of their improvement and their attention and their focus. But Kristin is just an incredible athlete. Wendy Larry was teasing and she said -- do they have volleyball at Old Dominion? They will have volleyball. Kind of recruit in the middle of the year. But Kristin has things you can't teach, great hands, great vertical, great court awareness, been on winning volleyball and basketball teams in high school, someone that is very intelligent, learned our players, in I think about three days, and ran different variations of them that some of the other people might not have, and coaches know that existed. But we are really fortunate to have her on our team. More than anything, I think she is someone that brings a lot to women's basketball in the same way that someone like Kate Starbird does. Women's basketball needs great players so that when people watch it, they come away saying "wow" and when they watch some of the players that Jamila makes, she says "wow," and watch Kate Starbird doing her moves and flying through the air, wow, and Kristin is another "wow player.
Q. Daily Press. I just wanted to ask the players, is there something that stuck with you guys from the Old Dominion game, something you have learned or motivation that you take from that, or was that long enough ago that it is not noticed?
JAMILA WIDEMAN: It wasn't that long ago. I think we learned a lot of things. As a team I think it was a critical point for us because it was really the first time we faced major adversity, and the first time we had a chance. Probably shouldn't have been the first time but the first time that we had a chance to sit down together and really decide what kind of year we wanted to have, and kind of take control of ourselves in that way. So I think if there is something that I learned, it is how important the mental approach and mental preparation is to the game, and how important it is to fight through 40 minutes.
Q. For Kate. I was wondering, with the players you are grew up with, do you feel comfortable having a burden on you and how the game needs great players to impress other people?
KATE STARBIRD: I just go out there and play because I like it. When I was growing up, I don't think I watched enough women's basketball. I don't think there was enough for me to see even though I lived in Tennessee for a while. I wasn't exposed to very much. Women's basketball, I didn't find any specific athletes that I could model my game after because I didn't see any. I think it is really good that nowadays there is enough coverage and games are on TV that girls can see us out there playing, and find role models. I feel bad that I couldn't find any.
Q. What about now?
KATE STARBIRD: You know, the game is so different. I never saw myself in -- I'm not a male athlete and can't do the things they do. Our game is a lot different and I couldn't find a male athlete either. I couldn't say I had a particular role model.
Q. Two questions, if I could. First of all, ODU and Tennessee in some ways describe themselves as underdogs here. Maybe Tennessee because they didn't get off to a great start. ODU, someone mentioned, are 7 points down in the spread. Notre Dame, I think, too, being a lower seed, consider they are an underdog. How does Stanford view itself? Anyone can answer. Coach VanDerveer, you can talk about how this experience compares to earlier experiences.
JAMILA WIDEMAN: Birdie just told me to say -- I wouldn't consider us an underdog against ODU because we lost to them earlier. If you are looking for head to head matchups, I kind of look at ourselves as having a little something to prove.
Q. Do any of you want to comment at the end?
TARA VAN DERVEER: It is very different in that you are working with college athletes, but I think that there are a lot of similarities between our team and the Olympic team. They are both teams that are just wonderful to work with. There are teams that I wanted August 4th and March 31st to be the happiest day and the saddest day all rolled up into one. Some things roll into circles, and we opened our national team tour in Cincinnati 17 months ago and I coached a game every single month since over probably 100 games, maybe 97 official ones or something like that. But the other thing I would say is that basketball, once you are on that court, and once you are coaching, you are so involved in the team that you are working with that you don't really carry anything around, don't compare in your mind. But the experience that I had in the Olympics definitely helped prepare me for doing a better job for our team in the Final Four. There is nothing in my mind that will ever compare to the pressure that our team felt in Atlanta, and coming in here kind of with the excitement and the hoopla and going into a loud, open practice, I had about 50 of those last year, and I decided here I go again. But this is a special experience. This is a special team. I just hope we have the same outcome.
DEBBIE BYRNE: That would conclude the Stanford press conference. Thank you.
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