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Jamila Wideman: Woman of Character or Athlete Novelty?

Students: Your task is to respond to me by 11:59:59PM on Friday night, April 25, with an answer to the following question: is Jamile Wideman an athlete and woman of character, or is she a novelty made famous by her sex and her athleticism? To answer this question you must understand the principles behind muscular Christianity, manliness, and character building through sport. It will help you if you read ahead into the article on the reform of American physical education.

Your response to me must be sent over e-mail to


By Robin Davidson

Senior staff writer

CINCINNATI - Head coach Tara VanDerveer knew she had something special in senior Jamila Wideman from that very first recruiting trip to Stanford.

"Because of her eye contact," VanDerveer explained. "I don't know why I did, but I just said, 'This is someone I look forward to working with.' She just looks right at you and doesn't break eye contact in a way that you know she just, I don't know. It wasn't like it was anything artificial, but she was just listening."

That's the kind of sentiment Wideman evokes from VanDerveer. The day following Stanford's 83-82 overtime loss to Old Dominion in the national semifinal the coach sat quietly, finding difficulty with the words as she sought to explain what is so special about her four-year captain and point guard.

You get the impression from VanDerveer and the other players that words may be too limited to describe Wideman. She's not someone you can simply tell another person about; she's something you have to experience.

Her focused gaze is penetrating, and her confident demeanor gives her the kind of presence that takes up an entire room without pushing others out of it. In fact, just the opposite is true; they're drawn in.

"Jamila is a deep person," VanDerveer said. "She's someone who understands the big picture. She's someone who genuinely cares about people. She's someone people trust and have confidence in. She says, 'Let's go,' and they go. And I go, too."

Perhaps it's that indescribability, that quality you just can't express with words, that makes Wideman such a great leader. She gives the impression of being in a place that's just a little above the rest, but she does it without arrogance or without even trying. Wideman knows the fine line between confidence and cockiness and has the charm to dance all the way to it without ever crossing.

"Charisma," senior guard Kate Starbird said of Wideman's presence. "She has more charisma than 10 people put together. That helps to make a great leader. She's someone you want to be around. She makes you feel good about yourself. She's a good person to talk to."

Photo--Jamila and Starbird

She's also a good person to listen to. All those qualities - the maturity and wisdom beyond her years, the charisma, the confidence - translate into an incredible point guard on the court.

But it's more than her versatility to make the pass or the shot, to defend the passing lane and then get the steal. It's more than her vast knowledge of the game that makes her an extension of the coach on the floor.

It's the way she controls her team. It's the way she carries herself on the court. It's the way she has the courage to get up in front of a teary-eyed team after playing her final collegiate game and get them to lift their heads.

"If you could've seen Jamila in that locker room," VanDerveer said with a tone of mixed sadness and respect, "I'm like, 'I don't have anything to say,'and she is such a leader of that team. She said stuff that will stick with me forever. People were very upset, but she was like, you should've seen it. She was standing in front of everyone and she was like, 'Pick your heads up.' And I was like - it was really- they respond to her."

Photo--Tara VanDerveer

What was an incredible moment for VanDerveer and undoubtedly everyone in the room was, for Wideman, one last opportunity to speak to her team, an opportunity she had to take no matter how painful it proved to be.

"I knew that was probably going to be my last opportunity to address our team when I was still going to be an part of it in the intimate way that you are as a player," Wideman said. "I was in shock and obviously very disappointed that it was over for us, but I didn't want to let that space of time disappear because something about the immediacy of that locker room and that space of time felt final to me.

"I didn't want to lose that opportunity to try to catch something for myself and maybe to throw something out there for our team to hold on to as something positive, something special, that hopefully will remain for people for as long as they live and longer than the hurt of losing will."

You can bet Wideman succeeded. So how can one person mean so much to such a team? No one seems to be able to say what it is, but they can all tell you Wideman is the one they wouldn't want to be without.

"I don't think I could put her role into words," Starbird said. "She ran the whole team on and off the court. If you look at our team, the one person who wasn't replaceable was Jamila."

"From the moment we stepped on the campus as freshmen, we knew she was the leader. I owe a large portion of the personal success and awards I've received to her because she's been such a great point guard. There are different types of point guards. Jamila's the one that's really unselfish, distributes the ball, runs the team. She's been making me look good for four years.

"Wideman doesn't think she's the one to answer the question of what makes her so special but offers a small explanation of what she brings to the court."

"Hopefully what people feel is that I'm willing to give anything of myself to be successful," Wideman said. "And not just in terms of our wins and losses but for our team to be the kind of team that's fun to be on and one that you'd want to remember. "I put all of myself into that, and so people trust my motivations. I think it in some way engenders a certain amount of confidence. In terms of basketball, I leave it all on the court. There's no secret; I give everything that I have and maybe for some people that example is something they respect."

If the praise of her teammates and coaches is any indication, respect is a good word for Wideman. VanDerveer said she's a person who can "make a difference in our world, not just the basketball world," and Starbird is just thankful to have played with her and known her these four years.

"When I think of my experience at Stanford, I think Stanford has allowed me to have a friendship with Jamila Wideman," Starbird said. "She's one of the great people at Stanford."

Wideman will go down as one of Stanford's great point guards. Her love for the game and competitive nature make her a great player, but those indescribable qualities that are so rare will make her unforgettable.

Like any true competitor, though, the enjoyment of her remarkable career is outweighed by her loss, at least for the time being. "I think right now it's hard," Wideman said. "I guess one of the labels I didn't want for this team was, 'It was a special team but . . .' And right now I can't really separate the two. It is a special team, and it will always be. But it's not how I ever imagined it would end for this team."

Copyright =A9 1997 THE STANFORD DAILY.