Stephens coach ready to push young, talented squad

Dane Pavlovich has personally recruited each of his players.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Dane Pavlovich stands pensively outside the door to his tiny office next to the men’s restroom in Silverthorne Arena. A pair of Little League teams are doing battle on Stephens College’s home hardwood, though turnovers far outnumber points in the contest, and the atmosphere falls somewhat short of intense. The young girls on the floor are participating in an activity that might be called basketball, one where benevolent referees ignore traveling violations as if Michael Jordan committed them. The 10-foot-tall rim may as well measure 50 feet.

Pavlovich is watching the game for the moment, seemingly paying no mind to the futility of it all. He trains his eyes, a coach’s appraising eyes, on one player at a time, and you wonder: Is he scouting these girls already?

The answer, of course, is no. They’re all about 6 years too young, but the Stars’ coach and sole recruiter is vigilant in his search for Midwestern talent. Pavlovich’s legwork has produced the fourth edition of Stephens College’s fledgling basketball squad, and the coach said he hopes to use this season as an opportunity to develop that talent and improve on last season’s 9-20 record.

“These are all my kids,” Pavlovich said of this year’s Stars (1-2), each of whom he recruited individually. “When you get to form these types of relationships with players, that’s pretty cool.”

Don’t blame Pavlovich if he sounds excited about his fourth season, because the coach doesn’t hesitate to call this team his best.

“This is the most talented group we’ve put on the floor,” he said. “It’s up to us to see how high we can push that ceiling.”

The word push will likely personify the team this season, though Pavlovich said his seniorless squad is still developing.

“I think we’re still searching for an identity at this point,” he said. “But I think the players understand what kind of team we want to be.”

Pavlovich’s kind of team has become popular in Columbia since the hiring of Mike Anderson, and his Stars may resemble a certain Tiger squad this season.

“We want to wear people out,” he said of what he hopes is a swarming press defense. “We play best when we’re pushing (the tempo).”

The coach’s offensive philosophy is somewhat less mainstream. Pavlovich stresses his responsibility to let his girls play, and he begs them to take the first and best shot. Pavlovich is wary of overcoaching, and he said he won’t employ an offense that is all execution and no improvisation.

“Playing against robots is easy,” he said. “It’s difficult to play against basketball players. I don’t want to be predictable.”

From recruiting visits to practice to showtime, Pavlovich said the concept of trust between player and coach is central. He said he learned that concept from his dad, a high school football coach himself.

“As a coach, you have to show that you trust the decisions that they make,” he said. “When you spend a lot of time with players, you learn that.”

After losing its opener against Graceland, the Stars dominated Central Bible 81-39 before falling to St. Louis Pharmacy in overtime.

The Stars travel to Hays, Kan., tonight to face Fort Hays State, and the team’s annual tournament begins at 6 p.m. Friday when the Stars will take on Midway College (Ky.).

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