Missing C. Vivian Stringer — Rutgers coach Tim Eatman talks Stringer, Caitlin Clark — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, March 2, 2022
Happy Basketball Wednesday! Happy March! It’s been quite a week already, as over at Sports Illustrated, a reporter ::checks notes:: ah, I see it was me wrote a story about the WNBA, charter flights, and the New York Liberty. The reality is, this is an extraordinarily complicated time for Cathy Engelbert and the league, without any easy answers. I hope you give it a read, and I’ll just add this: you only get reporting like that from someone who does this work all the time, builds the relationships, knows the ins and outs of the league. The bigger we make The IX and The Next, the more of that reporting can and will exist in the world. So this is your story, too, subscribers.
But I want to talk about something else here, from my Thursday night at the Louis Brown Rutgers Athletic Center (hey, Jersey Mike’s didn’t pay me). The final days of a forgettable Rutgers season are upon us, and most of the folks who showed up at the RAC were there to see Caitlin Clark. She did not disappoint.
Just as palpable to me as the presence of royalty was the absence of it, however. Iowa-Rutgers ought to be a time to celebrate not one, but two programs C. Vivian Stringer built. Iowa coach Lisa Bluder adhered to this — she wore a fantastic t-shirt celebrating Black coaching icons, which everyone should purchase. But Stringer means more to Bluder than just a vital figure in her industry. She was a mentor, too.
“I mean, Coach stringer and I have known each other for since the ’80s,” Bluder told me. “I mean, a long time. You know, when I was at St. Ambrose, my first job, she was at the University of Iowa and I would come over and work her camps. We’d talk basketball after camps and have Chalk Talk session.s and I remember she took me home in her Mercedes one night, back to my dorm that I was staying at on the campus at Iowa.”
But mentoring with Stringer means more than just basketball. When Bluder’s husband was in a car accident, Stringer was the first one to reach out.
“I don’t know if our program would be where it is today if it wasn’t for Coach Stringer,” Bluder said.
The same is undoubtedly true for Rutgers. As I walked the RAC, Mrs. Fields cookie in hand, during halftime, I came across this wonderful pictorial of the WNBA players who first suited up in Piscataway.
Coach Stringer is not coaching this season. She has a special needs daughter, she is concerned about bringing home COVID to her. She has made a choice that flies in the face of her hyper-competitive spirit, putting her family first. She can do this because she has a loyal lieutenant in Eatman, who is keeping things precisely the way Stringer left them.
“She’s doing what’s best. And I’m proud of her for doing what’s best,” Eatman said, clearly emotional.
But it has been a difficult year for the Scarlet Knights. 10-19 is one thing, but a sub-200 offensive efficiency, and even a relatively poor 151 in defensive efficiency, speaks to a need for a massive infusion in talent. Eatman spoke about the need to bring in players “who can put the ball in the basket”, and that’s really been the key for Rutgers throughout Stringer’s tenure. The defense, typically, is a given, and facing Rutgers is always a slog. Add scoring punch, and Rutgers is a national power.
But Eatman reiterated that Stringer will return, the recruits understand that, the returning players as well. He’s not implementing any of his ideas. He’s running the Stringer program as best he can, he says. Holding down the fort.
But her presence was unmistakable on Thursday, all the more poignant for her absence. COVID has meant many sacrifices by so many of us, but basketball itself is lesser without C. Vivian Stringer. During what’s been a difficult stretch for the program, it felt as if a bit of the spring thaw came into the room as Eatman smiled and looked ahead, noting that “one moment doesn’t define our program.”
“…We’ll be fine,” he said he tells Stringer in their frequent phone calls. “And hopefully one day we’ll take off these,” gesturing at his mask. “And when we started taking these off, then we’re feeling good about where we’re going. And she’ll be back.”
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