Veteran coach stresses value of team unity

C. Vivian Stringer
Photo by Charles Hallman

C. Vivian Stringer, by virtue of her nearly 50 years in coaching and her 25th year at Rutgers, is the dean of Big Ten women’s basketball coaches. She returns this season after her doctor sidelined her at the end of last season because of exhaustion.

“I’m doing fine,” Stringer told the MSR during last Friday’s Big Ten media conference call. “We have a young team, but we are excited because they continue to help each other. It’s a great group of young ladies, and I am excited and looking forward to [coaching] them this year.”

When a reporter later asked how her players handled her absence, which began last February and lasted through Rutgers’ first-round exit in the NCAAs, Stringer simply revealed a constant ingredient to her teaching. “In my absence, we still operate as one,” the 71-year-old coach explained. “Any other team would have fallen.”

The “unity” credo has been consistent for almost a half-century of coaching. Stringer is the first coach to ever take three different schools to Final Fours, twice finishing as national runners-up.

That’s only part of it, Stringer noted of her longevity. “I do believe that [players] really embrace and want to do what we’re asking them to do. Sometimes young people come in and they think that they know [everything], and you have to take a couple of losses before they fully understand.”

Stringer added that she likes this year’s mix—the Scarlet Knights have only one senior, two grad students, three freshmen, three sophomores and four juniors. “I didn’t say they were the most talented, but what I said was they are the most unified,” she stressed. “This is probably the most unified team that I have coached, period. I can’t say enough on the development of these players.

“The veteran players are so determined…to emphasize the importance of the small things,” Stringer observed. “They continue to emphasize what we [coaches] are talking about. They hold each other accountable. That is key.”

Stringer’s winning resume [over 1,000 wins] will continue when Rutgers opens the 2019-20 season November 5 at South Alabama. If successful, she will record her 500th victory as Rutgers coach. She is also the Big Ten’s winningest coach with 212 victories.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but I am very confident” of this year’s club, Stringer said. “We believe in each other, and I do believe that will be worth points and wins for us, because we truly believe in each other.”

What they’re saying

“Naz has shown that she can score the basketball in multiple ways,” Michigan Coach Kim Barnes Arico said of 6’-2” Naz Hillmon, one of two players unanimously chosen as preseason All-Big Ten by both coaches and media.

“We did change our offense to be more guard-oriented,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said.

“I think we are going in the right direction,” Illinois third-year Coach Nancy Fahey stressed.

“We need her to establish herself offensively,” said Wisconsin’s Jonathan Tsipis on 6’-1” sophomore forward Imani Lewis.

Shay Colley has WNBA potential, Michigan State’s Suzy Merchant said of the 5’-9” redshirt senior guard and preseason All-Big Ten selection.

“Your best players should be your hardest workers,” Purdue Coach Sharon Versyp said.

Maryland’s Brenda Frese said the Terps’ non-conference schedule, which includes South Carolina, will prepare her club for Big Ten play come December.

“I think this will be one of the most competitive” Big Ten seasons ever, Ohio State Coach Kevin McGuff predicted.