When the NCAA tournament tips off later this month, C. Vivian Stringer and the Rutgers women’s basketball team will likely be doing something they haven’t done in the past decade: watching from home. After finishing the season 16-14, the Scarlett Knights are unlikely to receive the at-large bid that would give the team its 11 straight NCAA tournament appearance. Stringer joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the season, which included her 900th career victory,
BL: This has been a season of ups and downs for you. Last month you celebrated your 900th win, and you are one of only seven D-I basketball coaches to have reached that milestone, but after your team had lost four times with 899 in the bank, had you begun to worry that the 900th wouldn’t come until next season?
VS: It sure seemed like that, didn’t it? To tell you the truth, I never thought about 900 in the first place. It became an issue once it was obvious that OK, this could be 900, and then we didn’t make it…. You know, you begun to wonder if you’re not snake-bitten, so that’s the point really where I was just anxious to get this thing over with. It was stressful, highly stressful.
BL: Well I’m glad it did finally happen. You received congratulations from Pat Summitt, who also has more than 900 wins, but what about Bob Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Boeheim, the three men in the exclusive club that you’ve joined. Did you hear from them?
VS: No, but I mean you think about it, we’re all so, so busy. One call that I did get that I did appreciate was Sylvia Hatchell because she had reached it a little earlier, and, I think, probably by the numbers, as we went into the season, the thought was probably that I would get there first. But as she got to 900 and then saw the struggle that we were having, she called me and she said, ‘Hey don’t worry about it. It’s gonna come.’ She and I are also great friends, and I was telling her, I said, ‘You know, I can’t even really talk to anyone else about this, but I feel so much of a strain.’ And she said, ‘Yeah I know,’ she said, ‘I could hardly breathe, you know when we were going through that, and our kids were just’—because everywhere you go there’s a spotlight. She was the only person that I really talked to about it.
BL: The 900th win notwithstanding, Rutgers has had a tough season, culminating with that loss in the Big East tournament to the team that you beat for win No. 900. Are you disappointed that Rutgers is not likely to be going to the NCAA tournament this time around after 10 straight years there?
VS: Yeah, to say the least. I’m out of my element. I’m totally uncomfortable, and I probably would like to go out of the country at this point because it is so seldom that has ever happened. But we had no juniors, the three seniors were hurt the vast majority of the games. It was nothing but freshmen and sophomores. So there’s no question about it. It was very disappointing, and the likelihood of us of being an NCAA team is, I would think, extremely small.
BL: This week, you announced that Rutgers will not play in the WNIT. Is it injuries that accounted for that decision?
VS: There’s no question about it because the three seniors are hurt and at the end of the game another, actually two of our other starters are limping badly as well. So if it was going to happen, and I’m so sorry that it had to happen on the 900 because it seems that every time I have been somehow been able to celebrate a great milestone, it’s also in the face of, you know, something like this, which reminds us that it wasn’t so easy getting there in the first place. So it keeps you grounded, for sure.