One of the most recognizable names in all of college basketball, C. Vivian Stringer – mother, teacher, coach – has built an illustrious legacy highlighted by countless unforgettable moments through a tireless work ethic and desire for excellence. A pioneer, visionary and leader during her four decades of success on the hardwood, Stringer once again made history this past season as she eclipsed the monumental 1,000 career victory milestone during the 2018-19 campaign and further adding her legacy of one of the most influential faces in basketball.
With 48 seasons on the sidelines, Stringer has been the primary architect in transforming three programs into national title contenders ever since her appearance in the first-ever NCAA National Championship game. She has guided teams to 27 of the 38 NCAA Tournaments, including 10-straight from 2003 to 2012.
The first coach in men’s or women’s basketball history to take three different schools to the Final Four (Cheyney in 1982, Iowa in 1993 and Rutgers, in 2000 and again in 2007), Stringer has been a pioneer, visionary and leader during her four decades of success on the hardwood.
Stringer has compiled an overall record of 1019-412, which ranks sixth all-time among NCAA women’s basketball coaching victories, and was the fifth coach in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history to surpass the 1,000 career win milestone.
While at Rutgers for the last 24 seasons, Stringer has registered 499-277 mark having led the Scarlet Knights to 16 NCAA Tournaments, including two Final Four appearances, as well as the WNIT Championship in 2014.
Stringer was enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in arguably the best class ever in 2009. She joined fellow basketball greats Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton and Jerry Sloan to receive basketball’s ultimate honor. She became just the 11th women’s coach to earn the prestigious prize.
A 2001 inductee into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Stringer made her sixth appearance on a USA Basketball coaching staff in 2004, serving as an assistant coach for the gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic Team. Named one of the “101 Most Influential Minorities in Sports” by Sports Illustrated in 2003, Stringer continues to be one of the most recognized coaches in the game.
A coal miner’s daughter, Stringer learned a valuable lesson from her parents growing up in the small tight-knit community of Edenborn in western Pennsylvania: “Work hard and don’t look for excuses, and you can achieve anything.”
That lesson has stuck with the legendary college basketball coach and has been one of the primary messages she has passed on to the hundreds of players who have stood before her. It’s been her perseverance and strength in the eyes of adversity that has meant the most to the people around her. Stringer prides herself on not only teaching her players the game of basketball but more importantly providing them life lessons that stand the test of time.
Stringer has overcome many challenges in her life; the loss of her beloved father at the tender age of 19; in 1982, her only daughter being stricken with spinal meningitis just prior to her Cheyney team’s appearance in the very first Final Four; the sudden death of her beloved husband, Bill, to a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day 1992 and a bout with breast cancer which she kept a secret from nearly everyone in her life. Through it all, Stringer has handled life with dignity and grace rising above the tragedies to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of young women.
THE ROAD TO RUTGERS
Stringer began her teaching and coaching career at Cheyney, a small, historically-black school outside of Philadelphia, Pa., in the early 1970s. Even before the seeds of Title IX had truly started to take root nationally, Stringer and her Wolves were playing to packed houses and creating a name for themselves on the East Coast.
In 1982, the NCAA sponsored its first-ever National Championship for women’s basketball, and Cheyney did the unthinkable by advancing to that first Final Four, losing to Louisiana Tech in the championship game. For Stringer and her players (not much older than herself), Cheyney’s postseason run put the small university on the national map, as well as on par with the national powerhouse programs.
Following 12 successful and fulfilling seasons at Cheyney, Stringer sought out a new challenge and found that opportunity at the University of Iowa. Beginning with the 1983-84 season, Stringer built a program that helped elevate women’s basketball to a whole new level. When Stringer got to Iowa, the Hawkeyes had won just seven games the season before her arrival and were ranked 299 out of 302 teams nationally in attendance.
Stringer helped the team achieve unprecedented amounts of attention, including women’s basketball’s first-ever advance sellout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Stringer’s hard work and dedication culminated in Iowa’s trip to the 1993 Final Four, a feat that made her the first coach in history to lead two different schools to the national semifinals.
SUCCESS COMES QUICKLY TO “THE BANKS”
Stringer arrived at Rutgers in July of 1995 armed with a belief in the program’s ability, calling it the “Jewel of the East” upon her hiring. After two years of gathering materials and going over blueprints, Stringer saw her plans begin to come together in 1998 when her team – filled with nine freshmen and sophomores – posted its first 20-win season in four years (22-10), winning the BIG EAST 7 Division title with a 14-4 regular-season record.
Following their first-ever BIG EAST crown, the Scarlet Knights gave a hint of what was to come when then-freshman Tasha Pointer made two late free throws to lift RU to a 62-61 win at Iowa State and advance to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen.
As if mapped out in her master plan, Rutgers continued its steady progression the next season. The Scarlet Knights advanced to the Elite Eight before bowing out to the eventual national champion for the second-consecutive year.
They compiled a 29-6 overall record and a 17-1 mark in conference play to share the BIG EAST regular-season title.
Tabbed as the number-one team in the nation in the Street & Smith’s 2000 Preseason Poll, Rutgers lived up to its billing as one of the top programs in the country, finishing the season with a 26-8 record, a 12-4 slate in the BIG EAST and a spot in its second BIG EAST Tournament championship game in three years. With their 59-51 upset of top-seeded Georgia in the NCAA Tournament West Region final, the Scarlet Knights advanced to their first-ever Final Four.
For Stringer, who had declared her revelation five years earlier of leading Rutgers to the 2000 Final Four in nearby Philadelphia, there was a sense of triumph in fulfilling her dreams of making Rutgers a national contender.
Stringer’s plans continued to pay dividends during the 2000-01 campaign, as the Scarlet Knights were consistently ranked among the top 15 teams in the country, handing eventual national-champion Notre Dame its first of only two losses of the season. RU lost to eventual Final Four participant Southwest Missouri State in the NCAA Tournament’s second round, marking the fourth-straight year that a Stringer-led team lost in the NCAA Tournament to a team that advanced to at least the national semifinals.
With four starters and five seniors gone, a group that helped form the nucleus of the 2000 Final Four team, the young Scarlet Knights struggled through inexperience and injuries to post a 9-20 mark in 2001-02. However, Stringer’s youthful charges bounced back, producing the best turnaround in Division I with a 21-8 record and a trip to the 2003 NCAA Tournament’s second round. Led by a woman known for her ability to transform programs, the Scarlet Knights’ resurgence should not have been a surprise to anyone.
During the 2003-04 campaign, in one of her more remarkable coaching efforts in recent history, she led an injury-decimated team to a 21-12 overall record and a 10-6 mark in BIG EAST Conference play. The Scarlet Knights were the runners-up at the BIG EAST Tournament and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, despite having only seven scholarship players available for the conference title game.
The 2004-05 season saw the Scarlet Knights return to the national headlines with a 28-7 overall record and a 14-2 mark in conference play to win their first outright BIG EAST regular-season crown.
RU advanced to the final of the BIG EAST Tournament for the second-straight year, setting the stage for a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers defeated nine ranked teams during the season, including an incredible eight-day stretch that saw the Scarlet Knights take down three top-10 teams, capped by a 51-49 overtime victory against No. 1 and undefeated LSU Jan. 5.
In 2005-06, RU posted a 16-0 mark in BIG EAST Conference play, winning its second straight league regular-season title. The Scarlet Knights advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, and finished ninth in the final top-25 poll with a 27-5 record.
When accepting her Hall of Fame honor in September, Stringer jokingly called the 2006-07 team one of the worst she had ever coached. The master builder meant it in a way that only those that know Stringer well could understand. The young squad – with no seniors and five freshmen – began the season by losing four of its first six games and not buying into Stringer’s stringent defense. Stringer held fast on the group, teaching, shaping and leading the unit to the grandest stage, the Final Four and Rutgers’ first appearance in a national championship game where it faced Tennessee.
After the 2007 national championship game, Stringer showed the poise she has been known for throughout her life. The small-town product from rural Pennsylvania became a `de-facto’ role model for the nation following racist and sexist comments directed at her team by a shock jock. However, those that knew the amazing women expected nothing less from Stringer as she had been teaching self-confidence and dignity to her athletes for decades.
The team weathered the storm with determination and grace and faced the 2007-08 season with great expectations. The program picked up its sixth-straight 20-win season and 10th 20-win campaign under Stringer. RU was ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press Top-25 poll and No. 6 in the coaches poll. For the second-straight year and the third time in four years, Rutgers competed in the NCAA regional final.
The 2008-09 season marked a lot of new talent, but struggles with inconsistency. The team finished with 21 wins, the 11th 20-plus win season under Stringer and the fifth-straight trip to the NCAA regional semifinals. Rutgers continued its long-standing tradition of postseason berths, advancing to the school’s 21st NCAA Championship appearance.
In 2010-11, the Scarlet Knights earned their ninth-straight NCAA Tournament berth, advancing to a second round matchup with eventual National Champion Texas A&M. The second round showing was the 11th under Stringer. Rutgers made it 10-straight post-season appearances during the 2011-12 campaign with the Scarlet Knights traveling across the country to meet Gonzaga on their home court.
While the 2012-13 season was plagued by injuries and the Scarlet Knights opted out of post-season play, Rutgers returned back to the post-season action in 2013-14 to bring home the WNIT Championship trophy in its first-ever appearance in the post-season tournament. Featuring a squad of no seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and two freshman, including the American Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Year, the Scarlet Knights won their final three games of the tournament away from the friendly confines of the RAC, including a 56-54 championship victory over UTEP in front of 12,222 at the Don Haskins in El Paso, Texas.
The 2014-15 season ushered in a new era for the Scarlet Knights as they joined the prestigious Big Ten Conference. RU promptly showed the league that Rutgers was a force to be reckoned with and the Scarlet Knights returned to the big dance, reaching the second round of play before falling to eventual national champion, Connecticut. Betnijah Laney, considered to be Stringers’ “granddaughter of the hardwood” as her mother previously played for the Hall of Fame Coach during Cheyney’s Final Four days, was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the Associated Press and became the 17th Scarlet Knight drafted into the WNBA.
The pipeline to the WNBA continued following the 2015-16 season as Kahleah Copper was taken by the Washington Mystics in the first round with the seventh overall pick and Rachel Hollivay was selected with the first pick in the second round and 13th overall by the Atlanta Dream.
After a celebration of the historic CVS1K milestone, Stringer’s 2018-19 team overcame every obstacle they encountered with determined focus to return to the NCAA Tournament. The Scarlet Knights made their way to the dance after playing to its highest Big Ten regular season finish (third) since joining the league in 2014.
From the first NCAA Championship game in 1982 to consistently putting together a team vying for the national crown, Stringer has helped to redefine the women’s game.
TO BE THE BEST
Stringer and her staff knew when they arrived that they needed to attract the best student-athletes in the country to “the Banks.” Fast forward to present day and it’s very clear that signing nationally ranked recruiting classes has become a hallmark of Rutgers women’s basketball.
RU’s 2001-02 freshmen comprised a class ranked first nationally by the Women’s Basketball News Service, the 2002-03 group was ranked 13th by the All Star Girls Report, and the 2004-05 class was rated third by ASGR. Women’s Basketball Magazine dubbed the 2006 class as the best in the nation.
The Scarlet Knights duplicated that feat in 2008 with a class that earned nationwide praise across the board, as it featured five McDonald’s All-Americans and ranked third in the country by ESPN’s Hoopgurlz and ASGR. The 2009 freshmen entered as the No. 9 class in the nation, while Rutgers’ 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes were both rated third in the nation by Hoopgurlz. The 2013 class features the nation’s top point guard, Tyler Scaife, who would go on to become the American Athletic Conference’s Freshman of the Year.
The talent and success of past recruiting classes is also evident in the number of former Scarlet Knights who have gone on to successful professional careers on the next level.
Eighteen of Stringer’s Rutgers recruits — Shawnetta Stewart, Usha Gilmore, Tammy Sutton-Brown, Tasha Pointer, Davalyn Cunningham, Chelsea Newton, Rebecca Richman, Cappie Pondexter, Matee Ajavon, Essence Carson, Kia Vaughn, Epiphanny Prince, Rashidat Junaid, Khadijah Rushdan, April Sykes, Betnijah Laney, Kahleah Copper and Rachel Hollivay – have been selections in the WNBA Draft.
Pondexter was the highest-ever Rutgers pick in the WNBA draft as she was taken second overall in 2006. Ajavon and Carson were the first two Scarlet Knights to be drafted simultaneously in the top-10, picked fifth and seventh, respectively in April 2008. Vaughn was selected the following year eighth overall, while Prince heard her name called in the first round (4th overall), capping a string of five first round draftees in five years. Kahleah Copper is the most recent Scarlet Knight to be selected in the first round going seventh overall in April of 2016 and was quickly joined by Rachel Hollivay at the pro-level when she was taken with the first pick of the second round.
The 2011 WNBA All-Star Game had a distinctly Rutgers feel as Pondexter earned her fourth selection to the East squad, while Carson and Prince made their first appearances at the mid-season classic. With three representatives, the Scarlet Knights had the second-most all-stars of any other school that year. In 2013, Carson and Prince both repeated as All-Stars, while 2015 saw Pondexter on her seventh appearance in the all-star game.
One of Stringer’s strongest beliefs is that one must play the best in order to be the best. Having been a member of the BIG EAST Conference and the American Athletic Conference, with the winner of nine of the last 13 national championships, and now the highly competitive Big Ten, has afforded the Scarlet Knights a high level of competition game in and game out.
In addition, Rutgers continues to boast one of the nation’s toughest nonconference schedules each season – a fact proven by RU’s annual strength-of-schedule ratings.
In 2007-08, the trend continued as Stringer assembled the nation’s second-toughest slate, facing the No. 1 team in the nation in back-to-back games. Rutgers was the only team in the country to face all four squads (Stanford, Connecticut, Tennessee, LSU) who would advance to the 2008 Final Four in Tampa.
The Scarlet Knights repeated that feat in 2011, taking on each of the Final Four participants (Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Stanford, Connecticut) during the regular season. During the 2012-13 slate, the tough campaign featured RU facing three of the nation’s semifinalists, including taking national runner-up Louisville to overtime.
The conference schedule was amped up in 2014-15 as the Scarlet Knights entered the Big Ten, a conference that sent nine teams to the postseason, and following seasons proved to be no different. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, the Big Ten sent eight teams to the postseason, followed by 10 total postseason berths in 2017-18 and more recently nine Big Ten squads made it past conference tournament play in 2018-19.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Rutgers’ success since Stringer’s arrival has been due, in a large part, to aggressive and intense defense. The trademark of Stringer teams has always been a suffocating brand of half-court defense, often switching and disguising multiple looks throughout a game to keep the opponent off-balance.
The most famous, or infamous if you are a Scarlet Knight opponent, has been the match-up zone, a system perfected by Stringer and her long-time friend, former Temple head coach and fellow Hall of Famer John Chaney. In addition, Stringer has employed numerous full-court traps and presses, most notably the “55,” to often leave RU’s opponents feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.
During the 2000 Final Four season, opponents scored just 54.4 points per game – the fourth-best mark in the nation. The following year, RU allowed 56.5 points to finish sixth, and during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 campaigns, Rutgers ranked second nationally (51.3 and 51.9 ppg). Rutgers continued its suffocating defense in 2007-08, finishing No. 2 in the country, allowing 51.4 points per game.
WE ARE A FAMILY
It is not just about the success on the floor for the Scarlet Knights. Stringer’s programs have always had the feel of a family, but that family extends well beyond the confines of the RAC.
Community involvement has been an important part of extending that family, whether it be conducting free basketball clinics for local children, visiting with the young and old at local hospitals and centers, emphasizing the importance of education or lending support to Rutgers-based charities and events. The Scarlet Knights have become more than students and athletes during their careers — they have become citizens and role models as well.
That public visibility and involvement has, in turn, caused the community to embrace the Scarlet Knights and lend them support at the RAC. RU recorded its largest crowd in history to see a women’s home game when 8,587 fans witnessed the Scarlet Knights’ victory against the nation’s number-one team, Notre Dame, on Feb. 17, 2001, one of seven advance sellouts for RU since Stringer’s arrival.
ACCOLADES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Stringer was at a loss for words before she was to give her Naismith enshrinement speech on Sept. 11. After all, her career extended over four decades of work and involved countless players and coaches who touched her life. Overcome with emotion and fighting back tears, Stringer delivered one of the most eloquent speeches, sharing with the crowd and a national audience on ESPN how her desire to coach was fueled early in her life.
In a moment where she was being heralded for her lifetime of accomplishments, Stringer saw it as an opportunity to say thank you to people who had given her as much as she had given them. “I celebrate, you my players. It is because of your hard work, passion, execution of the game plans and commitment to one another that I am here tonight,” Stringer said during the ceremony.
In addition to Naismith, Stringer is also a member of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Enshrined on June 9, 2001, in Knoxville, Tenn., the honor truly showed Stringer’s mark on the game in regards to equality, innovation and growth.
Stringer has been named the National Coach of the Year three times (Wade Trophy — 1982, Converse — 1988 and Naismith — 1993) by her peers. She also was named the 1993 Coach of the Year by Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Converse, the Los Angeles Times and the Black Coaches Association.
In addition, she was tabbed the 2000 Female Coach of the Year by the Rainbow/PUSH Organization, a group founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson; the District V Coach of the Year in 1985, 1988 and 1993; the District I Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2006; the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1991 and 1993; the BIG EAST Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2005; and a six-time Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association Coach of the Year (1998-00, 2005-06 and 2008).
One of her most personally-gratifying accolades was receiving the 1993 Carol Eckman Award, which acknowledges the coach demonstrating spirit, courage, integrity, commitment, leadership and service to the game of women’s basketball.
A finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year Award seven times, Stringer was humbled when the U.S. Sports Academy decided to name its annual women’s coaching award in her honor. The C. Vivian Stringer Medallion Award of Sport for Women’s Coaching was handed out for the first time in July of 2002.
Stringer has also been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, including the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame and the Sport in Society Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2006 she entered the University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame. Also in 2006, Stringer was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame at the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Annual Salute to Women.
One of her most memorable events and honors in Stringer’s life took place in September 2008 in Beaverton, Ore., when Nike named its second child development center after Stringer. The 35,000 square foot facility, houses 26 classrooms which provide care, learning and development for nearly 300 children between the ages of six months and five years old.
Additionally, in 2013, the Black Coaches Association named its annual Coach of the Year honor after Stringer.
Along with her well documented collegiate experience, Stringer has also successfully tested herself in the international arena. An assistant coach for the gold-medal 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, her first USA Basketball experience came as an assistant for the bronze-medal 1980 USA Jones Cup Team.
Stringer has had extensive head-coaching experience in the national program, leading the 1982 U.S. Olympic Festival East Team to a bronze medal and the 1984 U.S. World University Games Team (Kobe, Japan) to a silver.
Stringer also guided the 1989 U.S. World Championship Qualifying Team (Sao Paulo, Brazil) to a gold and a qualification for the following year’s FIBA World Championship, as well as a bronze medal showing for the 1991 Pan American Games Team (Havana, Cuba).
A noted administrator, Stringer was one of the key players in the development of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association. Stringer serves on the Board of Directors of the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, created in the fall of 2007. The Foundation, in partnership with the V Foundation for Cancer Research, is an initiative to fight breast cancer. She also serves on the U.S. Department of State’s Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports.
A native of Edenborn, Pa., and a member of the Alumni Hall of Fame at her alma mater, Slippery Rock University, Stringer and the late William D. Stringer have three children — David, Janine and Justin.
Stringer became a first-time grandmother in June 2009 with the addition of granddaughter, Dayton, and welcomed her first grandson, Ryker, in the summer of 2013.