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Stanford's VanDerveer sets record for most college basketball coaching wins

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Stanford women's basketball coach Tara VanDerveer has become the winningest college basketball coach of all time when Stanford beat Oregon State last night. She broke the record of former Duke men's head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who had this to say about her 1,203 wins.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE KRZYZEWSKI: What an amazing achievement. Wow. You've been such a great representative for our great sport.

MARTÍNEZ: For more, we're joined now by Ben Pickman. He covers women's college basketball for the Athletic. Ben, it is a big deal, but how big of a deal is it?

BEN PICKMAN: It's ginormous. I mean, as you mentioned at the top, she now has the most wins in college basketball history of any coach. This is someone who has evolved with the times while still pushing the sport forward to new heights, right? This is someone whose first coaching job was as an unpaid assistant at Ohio State. She drove a van. She worked at a rec center checking in IDs. She got her first head coach job at 25. And as her career has blossomed, she's learned. She's learned to connect with players. She's evolved her style, and she's picked up 1,203 wins as a head coach in the process.

MARTÍNEZ: What do players say about her?

PICKMAN: I mean, the big thing that they say right now is that she has this unique ability to relate and connect. You know, I talked to a player last week, their star forward, Kiki Iriafen, who mentioned that she was a little bit intimidated to initially meet Tara and that her reputation preceded herself. She called her Coach Tara and would say hi, Coach Tara all the time. And Tara would respond in kind of a joking way - hi, player Kiki. And that's the kind of thing that Tara VanDerveer does. She always tries to relate to players. This is, again, someone who writes letters to recruits that she wants to commit and still uses handwritten letters. But at the same time, she's learning TikTok dances and trying to stay hip with her players. So I think that ability to form strong connections is really one of her strengths, as well.

MARTÍNEZ: I don't even think I can handwrite anymore. I don't even think that's a skill I possess anymore. Now, mentioned how she broke the record set by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Coach K, who also coached the men's basketball team, the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team. Now, some sports fans, guys in particular, Ben, can get dismissive when a woman is mentioned in the same conversation with men's all-time records. Do you think VanDerveer's milestone will get the same kind of respect that coach K got?

PICKMAN: I mean, it certainly should, and it is well deserving of getting the same respect, if not more, right? She is now the sole record holder of this honor. Look. There are some structural differences to acknowledge between, say, men's college basketball and women's college basketball and that, you know, in men's college basketball, players can go to the NBA, in large part, whenever they want - freshman, sophomore year, junior year. In the WNBA and in women's college basketball, the same thing is not true. The rules and restrictions about when to turn pro are different.

But you played the Coach K audio at the top, and you heard the respect and and deference and just honor that that he has for Tara VanDerveer. And, you know, she feels that same way about him. These are two giants in the sport, Tara and Coach K, and they certainly have this respect for each other. And I think everyone in the public who is a fan of college basketball, a fan of basketball, a fan of sport, should, you know, acknowledge the records and treat them the same and hold her up to the same account because she, too, is a Hall of Fame coach, one of the best to ever do it, if not the best to ever do it.

MARTÍNEZ: Just a few seconds left, Ben. What's the one thing listeners should remember when they hear her name?

PICKMAN: Just this is someone who consistently learns and evolves and, you know, is a true trailblazer in the sport who has seen it grow through 4 or 5 decades. She's had one losing season at Stanford in her 38 years there. That was her very first season. She, you know, led the Olympic team in 1996 that laid the foundation for the WNBA. This is one of the most important coaches in the sport's history.

MARTÍNEZ: Ben Pickman covers women's college basketball for The Athletic. Ben, thanks.

PICKMAN: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF UKDD, HOFFY BEATS AND BERTRAM KVIST'S "CAREFREE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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