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Parents, fellow coaches among those who inspired Stringer

As the country celebrates Black History Month, you ask Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer whom she has most admired in her life. And on this day, you might receive a pretty wry answer. She admires anyone who can get a good night's sleep.

That's one thing that Stringer has never particularly excelled at, catching many Z's. She might want her brain to power down, but it typically resists. After more than three decades of coaching -- making Final Four trips with Cheney, Iowa and Rutgers -- Stringer still can't easily let go of any win, loss or … well, that rare, weird game like Monday in Tennessee that felt like both.

"It is hard for me; I've got a lot of things pushing on me," Stringer said. "The kids seem to be fine, though."

The "kids" have been a primary concern for Stringer since she got into coaching. That came at a time when she really had no obvious role models -- specifically, African-American women -- to follow in that profession.

"I didn't have that opportunity," she said. "You can more easily imagine yourself to be what you see already in front of you. It's not too far-fetched. I wished I had that."

What Stringer, who was born in 1948, did have, was constant encouragement from her parents, Thelma and Buddy Stoner.

"My mom and dad were great inspirations to me," said Stringer, whose father died when she was in college but whose mother is still living. "They always told me just to work hard and that you are to follow your own destiny. If you've given the greatest effort that you can expect of yourself, you always get what you deserve."

Some might say after all these years, Stringer "deserves" an NCAA title. But that hasn't happened -- yet. She's still in the game, though, and said the other lesson her parents instilled is that you have to be fully aware of the cost of what you're going after.

"My parents didn't put any limitations on me; I knew I was capable of all things," she said. "I thought I could be president if I wanted to be. But one thing I did understand is that 'wanting' is not enough. You have to pay a price -- and really know what the price is."

Stringer reminds her players of this when they talk about their goals both in college and beyond. The dream is a necessity … but so is the reality of what it takes to achieve it.

"There are a lot of things people say they want to do, but they may not be willing to pay the pay price," she said. "Most times, they don't even know what the price is. They'll say, 'I want to be an All-American, I want to be an Olympian, I want to play in the WNBA.'"

"They have to know those people who achieve that aren't leaving the court early; they are putting in extra time to work on their games. You have to be sure you're going to the right source to find out what the price is."

Beyond her parents, Stringer was inspired by African-American athletes who came to prominence in the 1950s and '60s, such as tennis stars Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, track standout Wilma Rudolph and boxer Muhammad Ali.

"Those were people that I saw on television who, in the face of adversity, kept their heads about them," Stringer said, who is 796-264 halfway through her 37th season. "They overcame the odds."

Those familiar with the hardships in Stringer's history -- daughter Nina's life-altering illness in infancy, husband Bill's sudden death -- are aware that she has overcome a lot of odds, too. These are things she chronicles in a new autobiography: "Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph." In the book, she also acknowledged publicly for the first time that she is a breast cancer survivor.

In her profession, Stringer credits John Chaney -- who was her counterpart on the men's hoops side for several seasons when both were at Cheyney State -- as being a priceless mentor.

"I learned most of what I ended up becoming as a coach through him, just watching the way he did things," she said.

And she gave a nod of gratitude to former Kansas coach Marian Washington, who, like Stringer, was from Pennsylvania. Washington and Stringer stood nearly alone for many years as the prominent African-American women's hoops coaches at the top level of the sport.

At Iowa, Stringer was inspired by Dr. Christine Grant, who was then director of the women's athletics department for the school and a prominent figure in the advancement of women's intercollegiate sports.

Stringer right now is energized by seeing Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"Nothing touches me more than a person who has convictions and doesn't just go the way the wind blows," she said. "I can't help but be inspired by them. We recognize them as true leaders."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.