Under dimmed lights in Silverthorne Arena, a group of women plays to an empty gym. They are the Stars of Stephens College, and this is an intrasquad scrimmage.
One player stands out from the group. The guard is a foot taller than everyone else on the court and, even in the poor light, is easily distinguished by the thick tuft of hair protruding from his chin.
Dane Pavlovich, in his first year as the Stars’ coach, was never one to stay on the sidelines.
“I was a gym rat,” Pavlovich said. “I was always in a gym shooting. Just the love of the game pushed me.”
According to his players, a desire to compete accompanies a love of the game in Pavlovich.
“He is a really hands-on type of guy,” freshman Janee Jones said. “He gets out there and expects us to hustle all the time and if you don’t you’re going to hear about it.”
Pavlovich, from Onaga, Kan., played basketball at Onaga High, where his father was the principal and football coach.
“It was my dream since I was in elementary school to follow my dad,” Pavlovich said. “My dad was a coach.”
Pavlovich played at Kansas Wesleyan University for two years. Although only a junior, he became the junior varsity coach at Kansas Wesleyan. After a year, he transferred to Kansas State where he finished his teaching degree.
Before coming to Stephens, Pavlovich spent four years as a language arts teacher and basketball coach at Linn High. He said the jump to collegiate athletics doesn’t intimidate him.
“The level of talent (at the college level) is a lot higher,” Pavlovich said. “But basketball is basketball. I believe what works at the high school level works at the college level.”
The struggling Stars are hoping Pavlovich knows what works. Stephens College is 1-17 and has not won since the season opener Nov. 21.
“He doesn’t show it much, but I know he’s frustrated the we don’t play as well as we can,” Jones said. “He knows we can play a lot better.”
Injuries have depleted the Stars’ lineup all year. Stephens dressed only seven players in its 74-39 loss to Dominican College on Sunday.
“Our biggest challenges are a lack of healthy players and a lack of awareness about our program,” Pavlovich said.
“On the basketball court, this year’s schedule has been incredibly difficult. We’ve played a lot of teams that are very good, and they’ve put the hurt to us a little bit. But I think we’ll be better for it because we understand the level of competition we want to get to.”
Stephens looks to improve on its record when it hosts the Central Missouri Eagles (11-17) tonight at 7. The Stars have not qualified for postseason play, so tonight will be their last game.
“We’ve got to realize that nobody’s going to give us anything and we’ve got to go take it,” Pavlovich said. “We’ve got to pull together as a team and keep building a fundamental base.”