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New look, new offense for Stanford

After more than a decade, Stanford's triangle offense has been relegated to a binder on the shelf.

For years, coach Tara VanDerveer ran the offense through the likes of Brooke Smith, Jayne Appel and Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike. But this season's Cardinal team has fast guards and young frontcourt players who can run the floor -- but whose skills aren't necessarily of the camp-down-in-the-block-and-make-a-living ilk. This is a team of shooters and movers, not bangers and down-low dominators.

And because VanDerveer is who she is, coaching where she does, thinking how she thinks, it was time for the 61-year-old Hall of Famer to do something else. Something, she readily admits, is out of her comfort zone.

"It makes me cranky sometimes," VanDerveer said. "It's a little stressful. You lose your all-time leading scorer and rebounder, your offense gets put in a handbag and goes to hell, and you've got a lot of freshmen you're counting on. I'm glad I have a long-term contract."

VanDerveer is a student. And it seems this transition required some learning for her and her staff.

She tapped the knowledge of Stanford men's college basketball coach Johnny Dawkins and his assistant coaches during a coaches retreat. She brought in Milwaukee Bucks assistant Joe Prunty to conduct a day clinic. She called former Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni and asked him to teach her and her staff a guard-oriented, fast-paced, pick-and-roll offense.

"We really approached it intellectually, figuring, 'This is the problem we have, this is not going to work for this group, let's figure out something new,'" VanDerveer said.

"Our offense will be more oriented toward the guards. We will push in transition and go, and our bigs will run the floor. It's more get-it-and-go and share the ball."

VanDerveer had never met D'Antoni before, but she got in touch with him through NBA assistant coach and former Stanford Mark Madsen.

"It was pretty out of the blue," D'Antoni said. "We have a lot of friends in common in the basketball world."

But pretty soon, D'Antoni was on Stanford's campus, diagramming plays and watching Stanford's players scrimmage. VanDerveer joked that all it cost her was a lunch down at the athletic department cafeteria. Except that D'Antoni stayed for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"We talked about theory and the different things she could be thinking about," D'Antoni said. "It was fun for me for sure. I felt like it was beneficial to me, too. I'm anxious to follow up to see how they are doing."

VanDerveer began implementing a new offense, one she has never run in 36 years of coaching. She admitted there have been stops and starts, occasions when she has had to change something she just taught in the middle of practice.

She told her post players that their new middle names will be "Screen."

Senior guard Amber Orrange said the players have gone with the flow. Because they are having fun running it.

"I think it plays to our strengths," Orrange said.

VanDerveer was implementing the new offense right up to the weeks before full-fledged practice began.

"It's a lot easier to teach triangle because that's what I know and that is what I'm comfortable with," VanDerveer said. "I kind of had to let that go and get off the dock and get on the boat and go with it."

The irony is Dawkins is running the triangle with the Stanford men.

"I go watch their practices just to get my triangle fix," VanDerveer joked.

Holding on to what used to be was not an option for the Cardinal any longer. For the first time in more than a dozen years, Stanford will take the floor in its season opener Nov. 14 without a true star player, without a no doubt-about-it preseason All-American and certainly without a go-to post presence. For the first time in seven years, the Cardinal will take the floor without an Ogwumike.

"It makes me cranky sometimes. It's a little stressful. You lose your all-time leading scorer and rebounder, your offense gets put in a handbag and goes to hell, and you've got a lot of freshmen you're counting on. I'm glad I have a long-term contract." Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer

Instead, they will lean heavily on guards Orrange and Lili Thompson, who are experienced and aggressive and preparing to usher in a new era.

"We will have to do it by committee," Orrange said. "Not one person will be able to do what Chiney did for us last year.

"During scrimmages, it's not just one or two people scoring. Everyone is doing everything."

Orrange is the very definition of a "quiet leader." Perhaps the most introverted player ever to come through VanDerveer's program, Orrange will be the tone-setter, the button-pusher. Thompson will play a larger role. Sophomore Erica McCall will get her chance in the spotlight after spending her freshman season being schooled by Chiney Ogwumike.

The Cardinal will have perimeter offense with senior Bonnie Samuelson and her sister, sophomore wing Karlie. Veteran Taylor Greenfield will be asked to do more, the logical replacement for "glue" player Mikaela Ruef. And freshman such as Kaylee Johnson will be asked to contribute immediately.

The Cardinal will play one of the most difficult schedules in the country again this season, including nonconference opponents Connecticut (ESPN2, Nov. 17), Texas (Nov. 20), North Carolina (Nov. 28 in Hawaii) and Tennessee (Dec. 20 in Knoxville). And then they will duck into one of the most competitive Pac-12 races in the conference's history.

Talk of parity in the Pac-12 seems to be as much a reflection of Stanford's perceived vulnerability this season as it does about the strength of the rest of the conference.

And VanDerveer won't bite on that narrative.

"Do I expect a big battle this year? Yes, but I always have," VanDerveer said. "I always remember [the conference] being really good and really deep. And I was sometimes very disappointed when other people didn't recognize that."

Yet her new-look team is still picked to win a 15th straight title.

"My dad always said it's not the start of the race, but the finish," VanDerveer said. "I don't remember last year's preseason poll. ... I think it's important that we're healthy, we improve, that we like playing together and we want to be champions in the end."