Stringer a winner in many ways

By the time the season ends, C. Vivian Stringer could join a short, elite list of women's coaches who have won 700 games.

Even if Stringer doesn't reach the milestone this season, she's already one of the game's most accomplished coaches.

Stringer, whose Rutgers Scarlet Knights try to improve to 3-0 tonight when they host Michigan in the Preseason WNIT semifinals, is most known as the only coach in men's and women's college basketball history to lead three different programs to the Final Four.

But Stringer's impact reaches far greater than leading three programs to the national semifinals. She has produced several All-Americans and mentored many up-and-coming coaches, built programs and built leaders. And everyone who has been fortunate enough to work with her or play for her -- including myself -- are better off because of the experience.

Like Michael Jordan, Stringer has been successful at every level. If you take away her 676 victories and numerous honors, she's really just a woman who teaches the fundamentals of the game. And if you take away the fantastic dunks and SportsCenter highlights, Jordan was one of the most fundamental players, as well. They're both extremely mentally tough and very similar about what's important to them on the court. Defense sets the tone for both of them.

And nobody can break down a game or opponent better than Stringer, who also has overcome enormous adversity throughout her life.

The funny thing about Stringer is how deceiving her appearance and mannerisms can be. On one hand, she's a petite, pretty woman who's huggable and fun, almost like mom. Then, she's a hard-nosed coach who isn't afraid of anybody, and all she wants to do is whip her opponents.

The difference, however, is that how you win still means something to Stringer, who has led Rutgers, Iowa and Cheyney State to the Final Four. And above all else, she is honorable and trustworthy, a woman of her word. And I found that out firsthand.

In 1988, when the Olympics were first opened up to professional players, I wanted to take another shot at playing for the U.S. national team, which was holding tryouts for a qualifying squad that was headed to Brazil and would be coached by Stringer. I wanted to see if I could come back and play, but I knew that at 29, I was considered a fossil, well past my prime, and most likely wouldn't be given a chance to even prove I belonged. After all, college standouts such as Jennifer Azzi, Vicki Bullet, Edna Campbell and Andrea Stinson were expected to make up the bulk of the team.

After calling several friends such as Pat Summitt and asking them what they thought of my chances, they all said one thing: Call Stringer. She's honest and fair and will not judge you on your age.

They were right. "Come to the tryout and you will be judged only on what you do right then and there," Stringer told me. "This is my team," she said, "and you will be given a fair tryout. You have my word."

She stuck to it, and when the team was announced later and my name was called, I could have cried.

That's the effect Stringer can have on you. And when you play for her, you realize her genius, how she's a student of the game and a workaholic. And she'll go to any length to make you a better player, even if it means practicing in a hotel ballroom and shooting balled up socks at a garbage can to make sure you're running the offense correctly (which we did in San Paulo, Brazil, when we couldn't get into a gym to practice). If Stringer told us to run the drill two more times, that often became at least three more times. She wanted it perfect.

Nobody is perfect, of course, but Stringer comes as close as all the other highly respected, big-name coaches out there today. She is one of the all-time best to ever stand on a sideline, and has influenced hundreds of young women, regardless of race or background. She stands for what the NCAA is all about. She is one of the really neat people in our game, and if you get to play for her, count it as a blessing. I did.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.