By Adrienne Goodson
My first encounter with Coach Stringer was back in 1983. That year she was head coach for the University of Iowa, I was heavily recruited, and even though I chose Old Dominion University she continued to be a mentor and great example for women across the globe. From Cheney State to Rutgers University Coach Stringer has managed to produce incredible talent. If I could sum it up I would have to say that she is a woman with a Frank Sinatra attitude and that’s “Her Way”. Names like Geno Auriemma and Pat Summitt are constantly on the cover of magazines or newspapers but contrary to belief she’s right up there with them in regards to winning percentage. All that’s left is the NCAA championship.
I caught up with her to chat about the upcoming season, The Big east, and overcoming obstacles. The Big east sounds like the hot ticket, a conference to watch out for this season and I will surely do that. Here’s what Coach Stringer had to say:
Goody: Rutgers were ranked in several pre-season polls as one of the Top 5 teams in the nation which is a great accomplishment. What is your teams focus for this year?
Coach Stringer: First of all, I had to convince myself that last year cannot be our focus. We have to move forward. We have some fundamental things that need to be changed. Right now we’re not executing our offense well. Everyone needs to know their function from a pick and roll situation to the passer and cutter being on the same page. Yes, these things are a bit boring but, if you can’t execute the little things it will be impossible to accomplish the big ones. Our focus is functioning as one unit.
Goody: What type of players do you like to recruit?
Coach Stringer: I like thinking and highly competitive young ladies who understand the game because a person with all of that can be worked with.
Goody: What do you expect from your players on the floor?
Coach Stringer: I like to run but, if we don’t have anything in transition I want us to recognize and read situations. It’s okay to pull back and run the offense. I am about fundamental basketball. A lot of players don’t want to hear about it but it’s important to the game. At the end of the day I want them to buy into our philosophy and why we do things.
Goody: What is the main thing that you want to accomplish with each player?
Coach Stringer: I just want them to recognize their own strength and play within that. For example, if your a shooter then shoot and if your a rebounder then rebound. Basically, what I’m saying is just do your function and not try to be something your not, as she laughs. Rutgers is trying to address the “We skills” and not the “I skills.” A player doesn’t get credit for we stuff but they are necessary for the team to flow. Passing is a we skill. Rebounding is a we skill. Through this we will find our rhythm and make a difference.
Goody: Coach I talked to a few of your players about your discipline. What is it that you try to instill in your kids?
Coach Stringer: I tell them not to react quickly to anything. To keep going when times get tough. I push them beyond their breaking point so that they can learn how to remain focused through adversity because you still have to produce and deliver in those moments.
Goody: Coach you have some great individual talent in Matee Ajavon and Kellindra Zachery (Malcolm X. Shabazz – Newark), Essence Carson (Patterson Eastside), Kia Vaughn (St. Micheal Academy – Brooklyn), and Epiphany Prince (Murray Bergtraum – Brooklyn). I can clearly see how the we skill philosophy came into play. Talk about the Big East and what we can expect this season.
Coach Stringer: Connecticut was a legitimate pick as # 1 in the Big East and in the nation. Last year we had 8 teams from the Big East make it into post-season play which is more than any other conference. Truthfully, the Big East could be the best conference in the country and that’s something to be talked about. Whether it’s West Virginia, Villanova, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh or Cincinnati this conference will be competitive. Pittsburgh has steadily improved over the years and will be a force. West Virginia is no joke. They have a lot of players returning as well as some transfers and key freshmen. We use to schedule tough games outside of our conference to ensure a good challenge but because of the strength within the Big East we don’t have to focus as much on that. We are fortunate but we will certainly continue to put teams like Tennessee, Stanford, and the Chinese National Team on our schedule. This year we play 6 of the Top 10 teams in the nation and we are excited about that.
This conversation could have easily lasted until the next day. Vivian Stringer is clearly one of the most educated basketball coaches in the world. Milestone after milestone has been reached but nothing means more than the acknowledgement. So coach here’s to you for building great programs, great women, and a legacy that goes beyond this era. Imus wasn’t a setback he was a stepping stone. One step closer to the glory and that one shining moment. Thanks for the love.