Not much has come easily for C. Vivian Stringer during her Hall of Fame coaching career.
So it was fitting that it took her five tries to become the fourth women's basketball coach to have 900 victories. She finally reached the milestone Tuesday night with Rutgers' 68-56 win over South Florida.
"When I look back on my life, this team, probably this year, best reflects what 900 has been," she 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 joined Pat Summitt, Jody Conradt and Sylvia Hatchell in the exclusive club. Maybe a half dozen more women's coaches might gain entrance over the next few years. Only three Division I men's coaches have reached 900 victories: Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Jim Boeheim.
"I am fortunate to call Vivian my friend and could not be happier that she has reached the 900-win milestone in her career. I have great respect and admiration for Vivian and consider her one of the great pioneers of our game," Summitt said in a statement. "She has had an incredible journey, and I hope she adds many more to her 'W' column!"
Stringer, who was the first coach in men's or women's basketball to take three different schools to the Final Four — including Rutgers in 2000 and '07 — fought back tears as her team celebrated their coach's achievement.
"I think it's beyond words," said Stringer, whose record stands at 900-330 in 42 seasons. "I'm happy that 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 numbers."
During the four-game losing streak, Stringer admitted she was tired of talking about when she'd get No. 900. She was getting worn out by it, even snapping at reporters during a media session.
Her demeanor changed after a loss to St. John's on Saturday, the game before Tuesday's landmark victory. Stringer said she received a call from Hatchell, who reached 900 wins on Feb. 7.
The longtime friends talked about the pressures their players faced while trying to get that 900th win. It took Hatchell's team two tries to get her that victory.
"She is probably one of the few people I would talk to about it," Stringer said, "and she was just saying it was highly stressful for her, too. Finally when they were over it, (the players) were much better because they were really uptight."
With the weight of the milestone lifted, Stringer can only hope her team will use it as a springboard for the rest of the season. Stringer, in her 18th season at Rutgers, has been focused on making an 11th-straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Beating a surging South Florida team will definitely help the Scarlet Knights' resume.
"Everything will take care of itself," Stringer said, dismissing a question related to her team's postseason fate. "This was a major win, and it's important to win down the (stretch) as it is right now."
The Scarlet Knights (15-12, 6-8 Big East), who are 10th in the conference, finish off the regular season against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — two of the bottom teams in the league.
As the game ended, a crowd of 1,304 at the Rutgers Athletic Center saluted Stringer with chants of "900" and "C-V-S" and Scarlet Knights athletic director Tim Pernetti was among the first to greet her with a framed No. 900 jersey. Rutgers' cheerleaders unfurled a banner that read "Congratulations Coach Stringer - 900 wins," and her players took turns hugging their emotional coach at midcourt.
"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," she said. "But I'm looking forward to more."
Rutgers had lost four straight games since beating Cincinnati for Stringer's 899th career victory.
"It's more than a game, it's about a preparation for life," said Stringer, who is in her 18th season at Rutgers. "It's about understanding that when things are rough you may get knocked down and there may be doubters but you'll still rise."
Senior guard Erica Wheeler scored 24 points to lead Rutgers."It's almost a little heartbreaking because she gives her heart out when she coaches," Wheeler said. "So to not get her that 900th win as soon as we needed to, I cried a couple times at night. It was important tonight to definitely get her that win."