C. Vivian Stringer finally captured an elusive 900th career coaching victory Tuesday night as Rutgers defeated South Florida 68-56.
Stringer, a Hall of Famer in her 42nd season as a head coach, reached the exclusive 900 win club after her fifth attempt and with help from Erica Wheeler. Wheeler had 24 points, which snapped a four-game losing streak for the Scarlet Knights.
“I think it’s beyond words,” Stringer told reporters as she attempted to hold back tears. “I’m happy it’s over. I can hardly breathe. It’s over and now I can just coach and smile, and get back to what I love to do because it’s never been about number.”
Stringer, whose overall record now stands at an impressive 900-330, joins some illustrious company in the 900-win category. She joined Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt and Sylvia Hatchell, who reached the mark on Feb. 7. Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Jim Boeheim are the only Division I men’s coaches to have reached 900 victories.
“I am fortunate to call Vivian my friend and could not be happier that she has reached the 900-win milestone in her career,” Summitt said in a statement.
But more importantly, Stringer accomplished the milestone in February, a month that means so much to African-Americans. Her 900th career win makes her the first African-American and first African-American female to have that many victories in Division I college basketball.
“If it’s something special for all the generations of players and coaches that I’ve been a part of, then yeah, I’m happy,” Stringer said. “But I’m looking forward to more.”
When the game approached the final seconds, the 1,304 in attendance at Rutgers Athletic Center saluted Stringer with chants of “900” and “C.V.S.” as she stood in appreciation. Tim Pernetti, who is the Scarlett Knights athletic director, presented her with a framed No. 900 jersey.
“When I look back on my life, this team, probably this year, best reflects what 900 has been,” Stringer said. “It helped me to remember that it was never easy. But unless you really have a passion, unless you really know how fortunate you are not to have had a lot of major injuries to a lot of players, which is what happened to this team, and unless you remember how fortunate you are to be able to get to those special places.”
Stringer, who is the only coach in men’s or women’s basketball to take three schools to the Final Four, will enjoy this victory only for a short time. She will head back to the drawing board as the Scarlet Knights look to push their streak to the NCAA tournament to 11 straight appearances. They are on the bubble and have an overall record of 15-12 and 6-8 in the Big East. With Tuesday’s win they enhanced their NCAA tournament resume.
“It’s more than a game, it’s about a preparation for life,” Stringer said. “It’s about understanding that when things are rough you get knocked down and there may be doubters but you’ll still rise.”