STANFORD, Calif. (AP)They are two coaches spreading goodwill from opposite sides of the country, the legend and the lady who vows to be one and considers herself a key figure in the future of women’s basketball.
When Tara VanDerveer’s top-seeded Stanford team had eliminated surprising Sacred Heart in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Hall of Fame coach took a moment in the handshake line to offer her encouragement and best wishes to coach Jessica Mannetti and her star freshman guard, Ny’Ceara Pryor.
Mississippi coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin has received that same kindness from VanDerveer, who went out of her way to welcome the Rebels to campus this week.
Now, these two community-focused coaches will face off when the top-seeded Cardinal (29-5) take on No. 9 seed Ole Miss (24-8) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday night for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen at next weekend’s Seattle Regional.
Stanford star Cameron Brink returned to the practice floor and is expected to play Sunday after missing a 92-49 first-round win against 16th-seeded Sacred Heart on Friday because of a stomach bug.
“We need Cam, happy she’s back,” VanDerveer said.
In Oxford, Mississippi, fifth-year coach McPhee-McCuin makes sure her players participate in one community service activity each month despite the pressures of classwork and basketball practice and preparations. The Rebels call it fellowship.
“It is core for our program,” said McPhee-McCuin, born in The Bahamas. “… We’re all over the place. Our community, we’re the women’s basketball team for the Oxford community and we take pride in that, and they have put their arms around us as a program.”
Recently, the Ole Miss women bought meals for people in need and spent time with them as they ate – from kids to seniors. When the state capital of Jackson faced a water crisis last year, the Rebels sent a truckload of cases of water to the Jackson State women’s basketball program.
“The moment I got into Oxford they welcomed me with open arms. It’s like my second family, so it’s always good to give back to them and just being a positive influence on the younger generation and being a positive influence on the community as a whole,” junior guard Snudda Collins said.
McPhee-McCuin comes by her grace and giving ways naturally.
That mindset was instilled in her as a young child when her educator parents, Gladstone “Moon” McPhee and former principal mother Daisy, routinely brought in young people who needed a safe place to stay. Whether a pregnant teen who had been kicked out of her home or a troubled boy, they were welcome in the McPhee home.
“So all my life I’ve known how to be a part of any type of philanthropic work because my parents embody community service and servanthood,” McPhee-McCuin said Sunday. “My dad next month is going to have a street named after him. He has a park named after him. My mom is a Hall of Famer, so I come from a legendary group. All I know is excellence. And when I talk about excellence I’m talking about from a servanthood mindset.”
VanDerveer is always one to give of her time to other coaches and programs. She admires McPhee-McCuin from afar.
“Whether it’s community service things or just coaching, really coaching is not just giving candy to players, it’s making corrections, it’s helping them reach their potential,” VanDerveer said. “Seems like she’s doing a great job. It was fun to just visit with her, even though it was a very short visit. I just kind of welcomed her to Stanford … they had a good game yesterday and just don’t want her to have a great game tomorrow.”
Women’s basketball’s all-time winningest coach was impressed with the grit of Ole Miss delivering a defensive gem getting past No. 9 seed Gonzaga 71-48 on Friday night to advance out of the first round after last year’s exit in the opener while back on the NCAA stage for the first time in 15 years. Stanford has won 21 consecutive NCAA games on its home floor and is 41-4 all-time at Maples during March Madness.
These programs played once previously and that came in the 1990 Sweet Sixteen as Stanford went on to capture its first national title.
Whatever the outcome Sunday, no question the 40-year-old McPhee-McCuin – who notes, “someone’s going to get knocked out tomorrow” – is making her homeland of The Bahamas proud and leaving her mark on the big stage.
“I believe that I’m the future of women’s basketball. Being 40 years old, I’m pretty young,” she said.
Just as she does when going up against No. 1 South Carolina coach Dawn Staley in the Southeastern Conference, McPhee-McCuin will cherish her moment on the opposite bench from VanDerveer, who turns 70 in June.
“Listen, I’m the young thunder cat in the group, right?” she said. “I look up to a lot of coaches.”
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