Stringer happy again at Rutgers
She was a successful black woman coaching the historically strong women’s basketball team at Iowa. She just signed a recruiting class many experts said was the best in the history of women’s basketball. And she took the Hawkeyes to the 1993 Final Four.
But Stringer was missing something. Just months earlier, her husband, William, died of a heart attack on Thanksgiving. Basketball didn’t matter quite as much.
Her husband’s death gave Stringer a new perspective on life. The void created by William’s passing led Stringer to explore herself, and for the first time make a decision for herself and not her basketball career. It took her on a path that eventually led her to Rutgers, the team she brings to Syracuse tonight at 7.
After practices, she would close the door to her office and cry for hours. She had everything a basketball coach wanted, but off the court she still had to deal with supporting herself, her daughter, who was debilitated after contracting meningitis when she was 14 months old, and two sons alone. The pain of losing her husband was stronger than any joy a win could bring.
She thought about hanging it up, quitting coaching and the sport she loved forever. The sound of a ball bouncing on the hardwood brought back memories of William, and with those memories came pain.
Stringer pressed on at Iowa, though. She was never a person to quit, but after losing her husband, she wasn’t the same person.
The Hawkeyes made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1994. But just two seasons removed from taking her team to the Final Four, something was wrong with Stringer. In 1995, Iowa went 11-17.
‘My life totally changed,’ Stringer said. ‘I had three kids to support by myself. I wanted to explore life beyond basketball. I wanted to balance my life.’
Stringer yearned for more. She knew there was more to life than basketball. She always preached that to her players, but she couldn’t replace such a large part of her life instantaneously.
After the 1994-95 season, Stringer received a phone call from Rutgers. Theresa Shank Grentz, the women’s basketball coach at Rutgers since 1976, retired. Stringer was Rutgers’ first choice for a placement.
At first, Stringer brushed the call off. She had received dozens of calls before from schools like Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky. If she didn’t leave Iowa for those schools, surely Rutgers wouldn’t entice her.
But Rutgers persisted. Even Stringer’s brother in Philadelphia tried to coax her to come to the nearby Garden State.
Still, she resisted. Stringer’s sisters were already in Iowa, and she wasn’t sure if the move was right for her.
Day after day, Stringer received phone calls from Rutgers urging her to pick up and go to New Jersey. And the more she thought about it, the more the move made sense personally.
‘There is so much more to do in New Jersey,’ Stringer said. ‘Professionally, it wasn’t the smartest move. I made a personal move. (My husband’s death) was very hurtful. But I tell my kids to stop crying and get back up. So I got up and went to Rutgers.’
And it was one of the best decisions Stringer ever made. Despite never watching a Rutgers game, Stringer promised to make the Scarlet Knights a national power. And after five seasons, she transformed a 13-15 team into a participant in the 2000 Final Four.
She broke all expectations. So many times a new coach has come to Rutgers, promised greatness and fallen flat. Where others failed, Stringer delivered.
‘(I) play for a demanding coach and she’s a perfectionist at the highest level,’ said Rutgers guard Cappie Poindexter. ‘Coming to Rutgers, taking three teams to the Final Four, she’s going to have high expectations. She demands the best from her players, like any elite coach.’
Stringer demands the best from her players in athletics and academics. But her demands weren’t one-sided. She would go back to her office after a meeting or a practice and immediately pick up a book. She constantly studied a variety of subjects and taught her players philosophy as readily as the pick-and-roll.
Using basketball, Stringer preached the usefulness of an education to her players. Her players were students first and she reinforced that on a daily basis. Her team gathered to shoot jumpers and discuss whatever profound thoughts crossed her mind. Stringer would often surprise her team with statements like, ‘Truth is the light and all you have to do is look at it.’
‘She taught a lot of life lessons,’ said Jolette Law, a Rutgers assistant and a player under Stringer at Iowa. ‘She always told us, ‘No matter what comes your way, get the job done. Don’t make excuses.’ She’s not all about wins and losses. Education is important to her. She told me to go get my education because it will take you farther than basketball ever will.’
While the move to Rutgers rejuvenated Stringer’s passion for basketball, it also allowed her to explore new passions. Stringer cultivated her love of jazz music and, unlike in Iowa, could listen to live jazz after work and unwind.
The change of scenery provided an opportunity for Stringer to grow. With Rutgers’ proximity to New York and Philadelphia, she was in the middle of a vibrant area that matched her free-spirit personality.
And with the multitude of opportunities around her, Stringer was able to coax basketball players around the United States to come to New Jersey in a similar manner that persuaded her.
Stringer is glad she made the trip to Rutgers. And so is Rutgers.
‘We’ve had success at a much faster rate at Rutgers than at Iowa,’ Stringer said. ‘It’s a great area. It’s a culturally rich area. The university is prestigious. What else can you want? We made a Final Four in five years and we’re talking about doing it again. Everybody who’s somebody will have to say Rutgers University is a power.’
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