Some 40 or so fans gathered at Gordon Biersch Restaurant in downtown Palo Alto to hear and see host John Platz interview the coach plus senior Nneka Ogwumike, junior Joslyn Tinkle and sophomore Chiney Ogwumike for KNBR’s “Inside Stanford Sports.” Because of technical glitches, the program started about 15 minutes past its scheduled 8 p.m. start time and finished about 10 minutes past its 9 p.m. ending time.
John started the program by reeling off some of the team’s accomplishments this season and over the years: 24-1 record, #2 ranking in national polls, 15-0 conference record, 21st conference championship, 10 first-team All Americans (including Nneka), three national Players of the Year, 76 consecutive home wins (longest streak in the country) and Naismith Hall of Fame membership for Tara.
Tara assesses the season
He then talked to Tara about the season. “We’ll keep it going,” she said, referring to the team’s impressive wins in Oregon. “We’re starting to play our best basketball.”
The team lost a lot of production and leadership with last year’s graduation of guards Jeanette Pohlen and Melanie Murphy plus forward Kayla Pedersen. However, as this year’s team has developed, Tara has seen that “we can play a lot of different combinations.”
Joslyn has “battled her way into the (starting) lineup,” while starting guards freshman Amber Orrange and sophomore Toni Kokenis add a lot of speed to the backcourt. Tara also praised everyone else on the team for their contributions.
As for Nneka, “I’m enjoying every minute with her,” Tara said. She’s a great player and an even better person with her leadership and maturity. When she and younger sister Chiney play together, Tara calls them Batman and Robin.
After John cited Nneka’s 42 points in Stanford’s home win over Tennessee earlier in the season, Tara noted that unlike forward Jayne Appel, ’10, who could pretty much score at will from under the basket because of her size and strength, “we try to keep Nneka on the move.” That’s possible because she, like her fellow forwards, has great range and versatility.
Nneka’s also unselfish. “Nneka is about the name on the front of the jersey,” Tara said.
Toni is versatile, too, able to play either the point guard or shooting guard, and “she’s a top defender,” Tara said. “She’s also a mature player.”
Tara praised the team’s tough defense and gave part of the credit to detailed scouting reports by assistant coaches Kate Paye and Trina Patterson.
Looking at the team’s six newcomers, “We have a great freshman class – a phenomenal group, very mature,” Tara said. Unfortunately, guards Jasmine Camp and Alex Green suffered season-ending injuries last fall. In the meantime, their classmates have proven to be solid additions to the team, Tara said, citing the attributes of Amber and forwards Taylor Greenfield, Bonnie Samuelson and Erica Payne, “our Jeremy Lin.”
As March and tournament time draw near, Tara said she and her staff are trying to tweak everything. “Taking care of the ball is really important,” she said. She wants the rebounding to improve, but she was pleased with the 3-point shooting in Oregon.
“Keeping people healthy” is paramount, as is doing “the little things every day.” She wants the players to want to keep playing for each other. “We have to stay focused and disciplined.” The team isn’t quite where it wants to be yet, but “anything’s possible.”
Finally, she termed her Hall of Fame induction experience really exciting and “a dream come true.”
Nneka stresses togetherness, team spirit
After a commercial break, Nneka was given the microphone. John noted that she’s third on the list of the team’s all-time leading scorers and seems destined to move into second.
He asked her about the Tennessee game. “It was a lot of fun,” she said, and “the energy was amazing” in Maples. She loves the atmosphere that fans provide at every game. “Stanford is very special.”
Noting that she had learned a lot from Kayla, Jeanette and Jayne, she said, “I want the younger players to be a part of that tradition. They’re catching on quickly. …What drives our team is our togetherness and team spirit.”
Playing with Chiney “is like playing with three other people rather than four. She’s like an extension of me,” Nneka said.
As the season continues, she’s trying to become more versatile and to improve her ball handling to help the guards. “I always work on my perimeter shot,” as does Chiney.
Nneka and the other three seniors – forward Sarah Boothe and guards Lindy La Rocque and Grace Mashore – have been to three of Stanford’s four consecutive Final Fours and have returned without the trophy each year. Those experiences have fueled her. “It’s getting a little annoying,” she said. “What I want most is to bring my teammates there.”
Nneka had nothing but praise for her coaches. “Tara has really shaped me as a player and as a leader.” She knows what Nneka can do and brings it out. “Trina has been a wonderful addition” to the staff, while Kate, associate head coach Amy Tucker and Bobbie Kelsey, who left after last season to become head coach at Wisconsin, have been helpful, too. “I’m very happy for the experience.”
Joslyn ‘doing what it takes’
Joslyn came up after another break. John noted that she entered the starting lineup during the season after coming off the bench. Joslyn said she has fun no matter when she comes in. She’s just “doing what it takes.”
There’s a lot of pressure on Nneka and Chiney, who are the team’s leading scorers and rebounders, but it takes everyone to win, Joslyn said. The players must “focus on having very good team chemistry.”
Like Nneka, she’s glad she had a chance to learn from Jayne and Kayla. Now she’s willing to play the 3, 4 or 5 spot. She wants to be versatile.
John noted that Joslyn’s father, who is head coach of the Montana men’s basketball team, just won his 20th game of the season. “I was very lucky to grow up in a basketball family,” Joslyn said, noting that she lived overseas for eight years while her father played professionally. Her mother, who was a star player at Montana, was her AAU coach. Both give her good advice and support, she said.
Looking ahead, she sees that “this year has gone by fast,” but it’s still important to focus on one game at a time. “We have so much more to improve on,” she said.
Chiney takes nothing for granted
Chiney continued on that same line after the final break. “This is a time when basketball is really exciting,” but “we don’t take the moments for granted.”
Teamwork was a theme for her, too. “The person with the best shot is the person who’s open,” she said. She and her teammates look to have someone step up at every game.
Unlike her freshman year, “I feel more comfortable and relaxed.” She added, “This year we’ve been focusing on every play, every possession.”
She also stressed how much she enjoys playing with Nneka. John noted that people sometimes mistake the sisters for twins, but Chiney said Nneka has more finesse and is more graceful. Chiney described herself as the one with the big eyes.
After Nneka graduates, Chiney knows that Stanford still gives her many ways to excel. She also wants to promote sisterhood among the entire team.
Moreover, “I want a national championship for everyone that’s here tonight and the entire university,” she concluded.