It was a pleasant surprise for me, a few days ago, to be asked to write about the upcoming Stanford – UConn game. Some of the media (whom I gotten to know and adore as an newly adopted daughter of the state of Connecticut) wanted a distinctly Stanford perspective of the match-up. As a recent graduate and former player at Stanford, (and a very outspoken, opinionated and even biased Nerd Nation minion,) that request comes second nature too me.
Basketball is a game of respect. If Wilson or Spalding created college hoops commandments, the top ones would be: respect your school, respect your coaches, respect your teammates, and most importantly, when the ball is tossed up, respect your opponents because if you don’t, you will feel their wrath. Every program respects what UConn and Coach Geno has done for the game of basketball. Everybody respects the amount of talent, combined with precision they display every time they walk onto the floor. But one thing I have also realized is that while the crown is glittering gold, it is also heavy. Oftentimes in such situations, the world expects perfection. No slip ups. No losses, especially when you have this or that player. To achieve what they have over and over again, is remarkable and special. Therefore, the best way for an opponent to gain/demand respect is by dethroning such royalty. I call that Mission Impossible.
I was on a team that completed “Mission Impossible.” My freshman year, we infamously broke UConn’s 90 game streak. Why is winning a simple game of basketball being compared to Mission Impossible? Because we are currently witnessing an era in which UConn has proven to be that good. In order to have a chance to beat them, you have to play 40 minutes. Not 37, 38, or 39. 40 solid minutes of good, smart, well-executed basketball. Because if you do not, your chances diminish rapidly. Beating UConn was a banner moment for our program. (Unfortunately, figuratively not literally.) Nonetheless, I can say that on that night, I know what being great as a team truly feels like. And I have the ultimate respect and admiration for a program that bestows that opportunity upon their opponents.
So when we talk about two great programs, Stanford and UConn, matching up, the odds are always in one’s favor. Most people expect UConn to win. But there is much danger in being an underdog. The recipe for success for my girls back on the Farm is confidence. Be confident in the new high, speed offense tailored by Coach Tara. Because if anything I learned being a part of the program, no one wants to win more than her. (I have never met someone that watches more game film than her; “Tara Scouts” and game plans are impeccable.) And if Coach calls in Mike D’Antoni, you know she is all in. Be confident in the work you put in during the off-season. Because if not, it’s simply a waste of time, effort, and resources. Be confident in your teammates. A lot of hoopla has been made about the new identity of Stanford Women’s Basketball. What people forget is that we forge our own destinies. From the battle-tested senior class all the way down to the fearless freshmen, be the next generation of Stanford Women’s Basketball. This next generation will be different. But different is good. Different is exciting and refreshing. As Richard Sherman would say, “Adapt!”
One of the best things about basketball is that it is a team sport, and all teams are not created equal. Some teams are more like David and some teams are more like Goliath. Nonetheless, every team deserves to be respected for what their worth. Why? Because, every team sheds their blood, sweat and tears in practice, all in the hopes of gaining a reputation, or having the odds of Goliath. So in order for the game of women’s basketball to grow, I truly believe that no team is more important than the other. Because to our schools, fans, family, and friends, we are equally important in order to grow the game and leave our legacy.
Nonetheless, there is always an underdog. Sometimes David is more equipped than usual, shooting lights out. Sometimes, Goliath may stumble for a second, foul trouble, turnovers, etc. But the cool thing about these match-ups is that no matter how much we try to predict the outcome, we will never know for sure. Is Monday the day when Mission Impossible becomes possible?
We all know that this is going to be a great year for women’s college hoops. If I were back in the Stanford locker room before such a big game, I would be asking my teammates, “Who will gain respect this year? Will it be us? Who will seize this opportunity? Because it’s now or never. It’s time to show everybody what we’re made of…”