VanDerveer probably would be horrified to hear such talk. First, she is skeptical of the long-term prospects of the American Basketball League, which started play last month. Mostly, though, she doesn't want the Olympics to detract from Stanford's primary mission: winning the NCAAs. She recognizes, however, that she may be just as vulnerable as her players on this subject.
She admits she may not have taken enough time off after the Games and wonders about the "emotional cost of the Olympics." She says, "It may be that you only have so much emotional tread on your tires. I don't want to have a flat in the middle of the year." The excitement of the Olympics and their aftermath (VanDerveer's favorite letter was from UCLA legend John Wooden; she noticed it in a pile of mail because the return address was decorated with puppies) will no doubt exact a toll this season.
With this Olympic obsession and talk of international conquests, perennially underrated Alabama couldn't help appearing country next to Stanford. There was all this talk about Stanford's barnstorming trip to Italy in August, on which the players studied architecture and visited museums, and here comes the Tide, whose coach got his first celebrity endorsement from the Worm Shack, a fishing-supply store in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Moody may wear flashier ties than his NBA brethren, but he doesn't do much to help his team's image. He has used his rising profile in Alabama athletics to land his own cable show, Outdoors in the Heart of Dixie, a huntin' 'n' fishin' program that he does strictly to indulge his own proclivities. "For a fishing show," said someone who has seen it, "it may be good."
Moody is unapologetic. "How many basketball shows are there?" he asks. "Anyway, there's a good chance we might get this on the Alabama Cable Network."
But if Alabama is a little bit country, it's a little bit pick-and-roll, too. Playing without point guard Brittney Ezell, whom Moody suspended for the Stanford game after she missed three classes, the Tide put up a pretty good fight, outrebounding the Cardinal 47-41 and pretty much outmuscling Stanford. VanDerveer had taken one look at the Alabama women, who have more width than height, and decided, "This had better be a track meet, not a wrestling match."
The Tide seemed to get every offensive rebound, but it was handicapped by pitiful shooting. Also, foul trouble kept star center Yolanda Watkins out for more than half the game. "And we still got close," said Moody, whose team rallied to within six points in the second half. "That's got to be encouraging."
Stanford has to be encouraged as well, considering that it got so much firepower from an unlikely source. While the widely heralded Starbird was all but invisible until late in the second half, Stanford was having fun under the basket with its other Olympian: Olympia Scott. Scott, who got her name because she was born on the last day of the 1976 Summer Games, surprised Alabama All-America Shalonda Enis with her quickness, scoring a team-high 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
So what if the game wasn't as dramatic as the circumstances demanded? It was still a nifty start to a season that, if the pollsters really do know anything, could end with the very same matchup.