It’s an early, rainy January morning in Palo Alto. Stanford’s campus is sleepily rising, with many students still not back from the holiday break. The sun has just begun to slowly peek out of the unrelenting clouds atop of Maples Pavilion as the first few staff members begin to arrive at the facility. It’s quiet enough that you can hear the sounds of the gym lights flickering on. A stark difference to what it was like just 72 hours prior, when the stands shook and fans screamed, cheering for the Stanford women’s basketball team as they faced one of their Pac-12 nemeses, No. 15-ranked Arizona.
Maples roared as Cameron Brink drove to the basket and got a bucket through contact for the and-1. Stanford’s bench went crazy every time Haley Jones connected with Hannah Jump for a three—again, again and again.
It was the first test of the new year for Haley and Cam—a senior and junior, respectively—one that they took care of handily. They held a near 20-point lead most of the game, driven by Haley’s 18 points and 16 rebounds.
Now just a few days later, the Cardinal duo arrives at the facility for their SLAM shoot. Cam even still has a few battle wounds from the game. Both are relatively quiet at first, given the early morning call time, but the excitement of the moment slowly builds by the minute.
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There’s a long day ahead: SLAM shoot, practice, film and winter class prep. It’s just another day of business for the 2021 national champions, but it’s a day neither one of them ever imagined happening when they met during their first AAU battle.
“I played against you when you were on the Northwest Stars and I was on the Cal Stars the summer before we played together,” Haley tells Cam with a smile on her face as we begin the interview. “I thought she was really good.”
Haley is a year older than Cam, so to shine against—and eventually with—one of the best players in the country was special. That’s when their journey together began; Cam joined Haley on the Cal Stars program the following summer.
Now they sit side-by-side, smiling and laughing as they always do, enjoying the culmination of what they’ve achieved over the last three years since joining the legendary Tara VanDerveer at Stanford.
Bringing home back-to-back Pac-12 titles. Reaching the Final Four for two consecutive years. Winning the first national championship the program has seen in nearly two decades.
“Be so for real right now!” Haley says while exploding in laughter, when asked if she ever thought she would be in this position—a Natty, Final Four Most Outstanding Player and a SLAM cover. “You’re lying!!”
“I really wouldn’t believe you!” Cam quickly follows up also laughing. “I had no idea because with COVID, everything was so unpredictable and unprecedented, but you know, we’re just living life here.”
Cam was a special piece of that national championship team, one of the few freshmen on the squad. But this has been a part of her plan since she was 13, when she attended her first Stanford basketball camp. It was barely two years after that when she received her official offer to join the historic program.
“I’m offering her a scholarship,” Stanford’s associate head coach at the time Amy Tucker recalled with David Kiefer on GoStanford.com of the first time she watched Cam play in 2015. “At that age, and with that size…You don’t see that kind of package very often.”
The 6-4 forward committed to her dream school barely halfway through her junior year. And just a month later, around the major signing period for the Class of 2019, Haley committed, too.
“It will be great to be a part of a program that is always up there competing for national championships,” Jones shared with ESPN’s Katie Barnes in 2019. “Playing for a coach like Tara, who is a Hall of Fame coach, is going to be a great experience.”
Stanford has had a reputation of scaring away top talent due to its high academic standards. It’s currently tied for third with Harvard and Yale in the U.S. News Best National University Rankings. Some may say it’s a place that’s too school-focused for athletic achievement for top-notch talent. But let’s take a look at the facts. Not only is Stanford one of the top-ranked academic institutions in the world, the school has also won 158 national championships across 20-plus sports as of May 2022.
It’s a university that demands hard work, commitment and dedication, all of which is mirrored in VanDerveer’s blueprint, a blueprint she’s developed over her storied 37-year career at Stanford.
A blueprint that has brought home multiple national championships—three, to be exact.
A blueprint that has made WNBA champions, Olympic Gold medalists and future Hall of Famers.
When Haley stepped onto campus for her first season in 2019, she knew she was going to be challenged by VanDerveer, but even then, the first day of practice felt like a bit of a shock to the system.
“Oh my gosh, I was gassed. It was three hours,” the 6-1 guard recalls. “I was like, I’m sorry, what? Three hours every day? And I’m coming in playing against an All-American and a Pac-12 First-Team. I think the year before I got there, they went to the Elite 8 or something like that. So, I mean, you come into a team full of talent, it’s intimidating, but you’re just so excited. It’s also kind of an ego check at the same time.”
It’s a three-hour practice that begins with a special mindfulness session led by Dr. Fred Luskin, a senior consultant in health promotion at Stanford and who Cam and Haley call “Dr. Happy.” It then graduates into a detailed warm-up, then running comprehensive drills, sets and plays. Every minute of the entire 180 minutes is planned strategically to make the most of the time that VanDerveer and the Stanford coaching staff have with their elite group.
And it’s not only the coaching staff that pushes them to the edge of greatness, but also their teammates. Everyone’s always hungry to get more out of themselves.
“I feel like it’s more fiery between positions, especially the bigs,” Cam says. “The post players, we just go at each other and it’s exhausting and there are days we’re like, Oh my God, but that’s what makes you better.”
But it’s not always strictly business.
Cam, Haley and their teammates do have their fun. They pull pranks on “T Dawg” all the time, even rearranging the numbers on the list of accolades (national championships, WNBA players, Olympians, etc.) adorning their locker room to see how long it takes VanDerveer to notice. Currently, they have 32 national championships and only 3 WNBA players, per their latest prank.
It’s clear to see just how close this team is. It’s even clearer that it’s that closeness that’s translated to on-court success. They’ve found a balance in each other that keeps them level-headed, even in the biggest of moments. Take the final seconds of their 2021 Final Four matchup against newly established rival South Carolina as an example.
There’s 39 seconds left on the clock with a spot in the title game on the line and Stanford is down by 1. Haley, Cam and the entire Stanford crew are in the huddle while VanDerveer is communicating the gameplan. They look calm. This is the moment that every single one of those 180-minute practices prepared them for.
Haley inbounds to Lexie Hull, a play designed for her to score, but she misses and there’s a battle in the post for the rebound. The ball goes loose, but Jones is there. With no hesitation, she pulls up for the jumper. Everyone holds their breath while the ball is in the air…before eventually splashing through the net. Stanford is up by 1 now, but there’s still time on the clock.
South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson inbounds to the best center in the country, Aliyah Boston, a play designed for her to score. But Cam, Haley and Ashten Prechtel suffocate the post and the shot is blocked by Brink. South Carolina gets the ball back, but with 16 seconds on the clock, Prechtel comes up with the steal. It’s Stanford’s ball. South Carolina uses their two remaining fouls to give, and in the final inbound with nine seconds remaining in the game, Cam is trapped and the ball comes loose. South Carolina has one final shot with no timeouts left. But the Cardinal quickly recover on defense, eventually stopping Aliyah’s put-back attempt in the final second.
It was a game so dramatic that we’ll likely talk about it for years to come. Stanford, though, looked cool, calm and collected the entire time.
“I’m glad we didn’t look stressed, [but] me, personally, on the inside, I was stressed,” Haley says with a laugh. “Yeah, I was stressed,” Cam adds.
“I think it was really just kind of putting on a face [for] one another, but it’s also being, like, there’s really no reason to stress because this is the last 30 seconds we’re gonna have to play with this group of girls in this environment,” Haley reflects. “Do you want to be all pent up and stressed out? Or do you want to be enjoying the game that you love with some of your best friends, just enjoying your time out there? You know, whatever happens happens. If you leave it out there on the floor and have that mental understanding of the situation, it makes it easier to settle into.”
It’s that maturity that led Stanford to face a similar close situation in the national championship game against Arizona.
With six seconds left and up by 1, Stanford had to play textbook defense. Everyone in the building knew the ball would go to Aari McDonald. Cam, Lexie and Anna Wilson trapped McDonald, forcing her to put up a tough shot, which she missed. Stanford was back on top for the first time in 29 years.
“We knew Aari was going to shoot it,” Brink recalls of the moment, when she was only a freshman. “And then the only thing I remember after, I was just getting jumped on after the dog pile. Yeah, I don’t remember because I think I was so stressed, but I do remember my teammates being really calm.”
It was a moment that they’d prepared for time and time again at Maples Pavilion. It was a dream come true.
But what comes with one title is the hunger for another, and they came back the next year ready to defend their place at the top. The roster remained practically the same that next season, only losing a few seniors, f
The 2022 NCAA tournament proved just that.
Every team played their best game against Stanford, and ultimately, the Cardinal came up just short in the Final Four against another storied program, UConn.
“It was heartbreaking for sure, but I feel like at the same time [it was] a huge accomplishment because the Final Four is a big deal in itself,” Cam says. “I think it’s a balance of looking at your mistakes, watching the film, correcting mistakes, but also giving yourself grace.”
“I think that everybody on this team hates losing more than we love winning,” Haley says. “When you lose, that sucks, and you gotta go watch the film and you don’t want to watch it, but you have to because I think we all have goals in our mind, and the goals that we have are tangible.”
She later adds: “[But] it’s really cool to kind of be leaving this legacy of our own.”
As the lights and cameras turn off and VanDerveer enters the gym, their game faces are back on. Haley and Cam wipe off the make-up from our photo shoot to begin practice. It’s time to get to work. They have a national championship to reclaim.
“As someone who’s won a national championship as a freshman, what’s the goal after that?” our producer asks Cam.
“Another one. And another one.”
Portraits by Alex Woodhouse. Hair and makeup by Sarah Hyde.
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