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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1996-97

VanDerveer Back in Land of Plenty

Women: Coach returns to talented Stanford team after leading U.S. Olympians to 60-0 record and gold medal.

November 23, 1996|GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She will not score a point, not play a minute, but Coach Tara VanDerveer is the most welcome returnee for the Stanford women's basketball team this season.

VanDerveer took a leave of absence last season to coach the U.S. Olympic women's team to a 60-0 record and a gold medal at the Atlanta Games. Now she returns to the school she led to NCAA titles in 1990 and 1992, with a lineup probably better than any other in the country.

Stanford has 10 players returning, including all five starters, from a team that reached the women's Final Four and finished 29-3. One of those is Kate Starbird, a preseason All-American, who averaged 20.1 points a game last season.

Yet, the big name at Stanford is VanDerveer and she, as much as any of her players, is the reason Stanford is the top-ranked team in the country.

"I'm a little uncomfortable with the attention because it's distracting for the team." VanDerveer said. "I told them that people don't come to watch me, they come to watch you."

For whatever reason, nearly 7,000 came last Sunday, when Stanford defeated Alabama, the nation's preseason No. 2 team, 74-65, in the Tip-Off Classic at Palo Alto.

Stanford won despite only eight points from the 6-foot-2 Starbird, last season's co-Pacific 10 Conference player of the year. Alabama was in the game despite playing without point guard Brittney Ezell, who was suspended for the game for missing class, and despite shooting under 30%.

The Cardinal boasts not only Starbird, but preseason All-American Jamila Wideman at the point and three-point threat Vanessa Nygaard.

Alabama may be the only team with the size and the quickness to match Stanford. Four starters return from the West Regional semifinalist and the fifth is 6-2 center Yolanda Watkins, an all-Southeastern Conference pick two seasons ago, who was sidelined last season because of a knee injury.

Junior college transfer Shalonda Enis took over for Watkins, averaged 23.9 points and became only the second Crimson Tide player ever to be named an All-American.

Tennessee won the NCAA title last season, but will have to operate without Final Four MVP Michelle Marciniak and Latina Davis. That might ruin any other team, but Tennessee does have 6-2 forward Chamique Holdsclaw returning. She is considered the most exciting, and perhaps the best, player in the country.

Georgia has four starters back from April's NCAA runner-up team, but the player the Bulldogs lost was Saudia Roundtree, last season's player of the year.

Connecticut, with center Kara Wolters and guard Nykesha Sales, is also a contender to make it to Cincinnati for the Final Four.

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