Stephens College women's basketball coach brings team together as family

Friday, November 16, 2012 | 7:45 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Chris Duncan has been passionate about basketball his entire life.

While it may have taken him a while to realize his dream, Duncan is living it as the new head coach of the Stephens College women's basketball team.

Duncan played collegiate basketball at Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in Moore, Okla., but then walked away from the sport. For 12 years, he was away from the courts and worked in the heating and air industry. He eventually opened his own construction business.

In 2004, Duncan and his wife moved to Columbia, where he began studying for a B.A. in History at Columbia College with the hopes of becoming a teacher. He was given an opportunity to become a student assistant under the women's basketball head coach Mike Davis.

"Women’s basketball was not my dream when I first started," Duncan said. "I wanted to be a boy's coach. I think every basketball coach wants to be a men's coach, and I didn’t think I wanted to coach women. But after about two years of working under Mike, I really enjoyed coaching the women’s games."

Duncan said that Davis was a huge influence on him during his eight seasons at Columbia College, and was a large part of why he got involved with the sport again. Davis also helped him realize that he had a passion for women's basketball and that he wanted his own head coaching position.

Duncan said that despite leaving Columbia College for the job at Stephens, the two coaches have continued their friendship. He even calls Davis to discuss games on bus rides home.

"Relationships and dynamics within teams are very family-like," Davis said. "And Mike is family to us. We worked hard together — laughed, cried, did all those things."

Perhaps it's because of their relationship, but neither considers the competition between their two schools as a rivalry.

"We're not rivals," Duncan said. "The media in the past has tried to say 'Oh, they're cross-town rivals,' but we're not cross-town rivals. If anything, we both try to help each other."

Davis agreed. He said that at Columbia College, they want to do all they can to help Stephens — except when they're playing against them.

While the Columbia College women's team has reached the NAIA national tournament in nine of the past 11 seasons, Stephens has struggled to finish seasons with a winning record. Last season, the Stars won only two games.

Part of the problem may lie in the fact that Stephens has had three head basketball coaches in the past four years.

Duncan said it has been a challenge this season because everyone on the team is learning a new way of playing the game, and the team is very young.

The roster lists only two senior players and one junior. The underclassmen include four sophomores and five freshmen.

Regardless of their inexperience, Duncan believes his team has the talent to do well.

"There's a lot of desire on this team," Duncan said. "We've got a great core of kids and even though it's early in the season, we've had some really good moments."

The Stars have played three games so far, including a 16-point win over Crowley's Ridge College. While there is room for improvement, Duncan is pleased with their positive attitudes.

If there's one thing Duncan enjoys the most about Stephens, it's the sense of family. The transition has been made easier thanks to the acceptance from his new team.

“I love every one of those kids I coached over at CC," Duncan said. "It’s tough, but at the same time I’ve got my own family here now, and it’s nice to have your own family. That's one thing about Stephens. We're a big family.”

This weekend, Stephens will travel to Milwaukee, Wisc. to participate in the Women's College Tip-off Tournament, hosted by Alverno College. The Stars will play Alverno at 7 p.m. on Saturday. They will either play a consolation game at 1 p.m. on Sunday or advance to the championship game at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

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