DAMON EVANS WAS working the in a single day shift on the NLMK Metal Mill close to Gary, Indiana, within the winter of 2019 when his daughter known as to vent. The truth that Dana Evans was calling after 1 a.m. wasn’t extraordinary; she usually talks to her father after her basketball video games. However this time, the budding star for the Louisville ladies’s basketball staff sounded completely different. “I do not know, Daddy,” she advised him. “That is beginning to get to me.” Evans had simply landed from a street recreation at Florida State, a recreation through which she was minimally concerned, and, after stewing at the back of the aircraft for many of the flight, she had fired off a textual content to her coach, Jeff Walz.
“Perhaps I picked the unsuitable college,” it stated.
Walz’s reply was not what Evans anticipated.
“Perhaps you probably did,” he texted again.
Damon Evans had watched the Louisville-Florida State recreation that evening earlier than he headed to his midnight shift, unaware that the repercussions of the sport, which truly ended with a Cardinals victory, would result in such an extended evening. His daughter, a sophomore on the time, had performed 18 minutes, which wasn’t an enormous shock as a result of the Cardinals had been loaded with expertise.
Evans represented the way forward for Louisville ladies’s basketball, however the future could not wait. Walz couldn’t afford to lose her. She was a McDonald’s All American with pace and big scoring potential. However like Evans, Walz was cussed. He insists that he wasn’t frightened on that tense evening two years in the past, nor did he frantically name Evans to ensure she wasn’t Googling, “switch portal.”
Assistant coach Sam Purcell did all of the scrambling for them. Purcell texted Damon on the metal mill and talked to him at 3:30 a.m. On the finish of the dialog, Damon advised Purcell, “I bought this.”
The following name was between Damon and his daughter. It was about 4 within the morning. He advised her life was laborious. It has all the time been that method for Evans rising up in Gary, Indiana. He reminded her that she knew what she was moving into when she signed on at Louisville.
A number of hours after she bought off the telephone together with her dad, a sleep-deprived Evans walked into Walz’s workplace and apologized. Two years later, she’s a first-team All-American and the chief of a Louisville staff that can play Oregon within the Candy 16 on Sunday.
Walz stated it is a good instance of a participant “trusting the method,” in a time when greater than 1,500 school athletes are within the switch portal. But it surely’s greater than that. The Dana Evans story is a couple of participant trusting herself. Trusting that nothing — not her 5-foot-6 body, not her childhood in a reeling city, not a benching and never even a taking pictures hunch throughout essentially the most essential time of her school profession — might sluggish her down. It’s that belief that Louisville will rely on because the Cardinals intention for his or her first nationwide title in program historical past.
“She’s all the time had a chip on her shoulder,” Damon Evans stated. “That is simply how she’s constructed, and he or she’s all the time been that method. She’s the kind of child, and he or she in all probability will not admit this, however she wants a purpose to be mad.”
THE FIRST SLIGHT got here on Aug. 1, 1998. Dana Evans got here in at 6 kilos and 9 ounces, a tiny child who would by no means develop right into a basketball participant’s prototype. Her mother, Shwanda, bought her into ballet when she was about 5. It was her old flame. When Evans was in fourth grade, she tried out for the basketball staff, regardless of by no means having picked up a basketball earlier than. She had quietly studied the sport for years, as a result of it was all the time on in the home, and stunned her dad when she made the roster.
Evans was quicker than everybody else, mentally and bodily. The ballet crunches and sit-ups gave her a robust core. Previous movies of her grade-school enjoying days present her zooming round taller gamers. “The very first thing I used to be good at was protection,” she stated. “I believe it was as a result of I used to be simply so low to the bottom and I did not like anyone to attain on me.”
She did not thoughts being only a defensive participant — till she scored her first basket. However by the eighth grade, she knew she’d have to offer one thing up, and it wasn’t going to be basketball. It was laborious for her to stop ballet as a result of she knew how a lot her mother beloved it. However Shwanda understood. She was all the time the one who tried to fill her daughter with optimistic ideas. Her dad was the one who critiqued her and advised her the issues she did not need to hear.
They labored laborious to offer Evans an excellent life. They made positive there was sufficient cash for the 10-hour street journeys to AAU video games in Virginia, or wherever else basketball took her. However the good life wasn’t all the time simple. Gary is a Rust Belt city positioned a couple of half hour southeast of downtown Chicago. Many years in the past, it was a booming metal metropolis, however then abroad competitors and expertise led to layoffs. Now it’s recognized for its unemployment, blighted buildings and excessive crime charges.
Evans stated she has “misplaced mates to gun violence.” A number of years in the past, her cousin, Pamela Hunter, was shot and killed in her house. Hunter, whom they known as “P.J.,” was a 28-year-old mom of 5.
One in all Gary’s most hopeful photos was a mural of The Jackson 5, who had been based in Gary, on a four-story downtown constructing. That building was demolished in November as a result of it was deemed unsafe.
However Evans has all the time carried a deep satisfaction for Gary. It is the place she cast her toughness. She’d see her dad and mom work laborious, her dad pulling 12-hour shifts, and the folks of Gary struggling for a greater life, and it impressed her. She appreciated being the underdog, combating her method by way of gamers greater than her, proving she belonged.
She led West Aspect Excessive College to a few Class 4A sectional titles.
She averaged 35.8 factors, 7.6 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 4.8 steals throughout her senior 12 months, and her 2,832 profession factors ranked fifth in Indiana prep women historical past. However she didn’t win Indiana’s Miss Basketball. And it nonetheless bothers her at the moment.
Evans did have her second when she made the McDonald’s All-American team. The sport was performed on the United Heart in Chicago, a brief drive from her house. Throughout a media occasion that week, her interview changed into a motivational speech.
“No woman has ever made the McDonald’s All-American staff from Gary, Indiana,” she stated. “Properly, guess what? I am the primary.
“I am a residing testimony that you are able to do no matter you need should you put your thoughts to it. Whether or not it offers with enjoying sports activities, enjoying an instrument, singing or something. You will be something you need. However you need to consider in your self, pray and work for it.”
THE THING THAT stood out to Louisville’s coaches after they watched Evans play AAU ball was pace. It is her superpower, Sam Purcell stated. When she zooms previous somebody, they chuckle, have a look at one another and say, “Bye bye.”
They supplied her an opportunity to affix an incredible staff and win the varsity’s first nationwide championship in ladies’s basketball. The Cardinals already had Asia Durr on the roster, who’d wind up being the No. 2 decide within the 2019 WNBA draft. Jazmine Jones would grow to be a primary rounder the next 12 months.
Evans grew up as an enormous fan of Notre Dame, which was a powerhouse when she was in highschool. However she stated the Preventing Irish didn’t recruit her. Throughout her senior 12 months of highschool, after she’d signed with Louisville, she went to South Bend together with her dad to look at the Cardinals play. Notre Dame thumped her future staff 85-66.
After the sport, she discovered Purcell.
“Don’t fret, Coach,” she advised him. “After I get right here, this’ll change.”
With a wealth of scoring within the lineup her freshman 12 months, the Cardinals needed her to give attention to protection. The second recreation of the 2017-18 season, Louisville traveled to No. 5 Ohio State for a recreation televised on ESPNU. She entered the sport with an project to protect Kelsey Mitchell, the Massive Ten’s participant of the 12 months.
Evans instantly compelled Mitchell right into a turnover.
“Most freshmen would are available simply flat-out scared,” Purcell stated. “She’s guarding one of many all-time main scorers, and he or she was like, ‘What’s up? I do know you are about to blow by all people, however you are not going to blow by me.’
“Physique language is every little thing in basketball. And you have to painting some toughness. You have to have a bit of stank to you, like I am gonna come at ya, with simply grit. Not cocky, however we have got this. That is what Dana Evans does. She won’t be tall, however you possibly can really feel her ardour. You’ll be able to really feel her vitality.”
She did every little thing Jeff Walz requested of her in her freshman season. She ranked fourth within the league in assist-to-turnover ratio and was a nuisance on protection. She made the ACC All-Freshman staff. The following 12 months, Walz nonetheless needed her to come back off the bench. He advised her the Cardinals had been a greater staff when senior Arica Carter began and Evans subbed in and altered the tempo. However typically, Evans wanted a bit of extra convincing. Like that lengthy evening after the Florida State recreation.
“Our personalities are very a lot alike,” Walz stated. “So we’ll bump heads at instances. Generally children have to vent. I am OK with it. I can go house and speak to my spouse and vent. Generally gamers haven’t got that particular person to speak to. So I inform them on a regular basis, you possibly can come up in my workplace and say something you need. You’ll be able to say I am a dumbass for all I care. I will take heed to you. After which we’ll have a dialogue, and also you won’t like what you hear however I am gonna let you know the reality. We’re very sincere with one another.
“She is aware of I care about her. She is aware of that I’ll do no matter I can for her to have essentially the most success she will be able to probably have.”
Evans was named the ACC Sixth Participant of the 12 months after her sophomore season, however one of many largest issues she took from that 12 months was a recreation towards Central Michigan, a staff that performed a triangle-and-two protection and selected to not guard her on the 3-point line. Evans took that personally and labored on her 3-point shot earlier than and after follow. She got here again to the gymnasium at evening to shoot some extra.
The following season, she hit 90 3-pointers and averaged 18 factors and 4.2 assists. It was her staff now, and Evans was the face of the franchise.
Her youthful angst was over. Evans turned the primary particular person in convention historical past to go from Sixth Participant to ACC Participant of the 12 months. Her clashes with Walz? These remained an ongoing factor.
“We each are actually aggressive,” Evans stated. “We actually hate to lose. He is aware of it does not take a lot to encourage me or get to me. In the event you inform me I am unable to do one thing, I’ll spend hours engaged on that simply to point out you I can.”
BEFORE THE PANDEMIC, Louisville had “Courtsiders,” followers who, in response to Purcell, “spend some huge cash to have courtside seats.” Evans turned so widespread that a number of the Courtsiders would put on plastic glasses together with her trademark lengthy eyelashes on the edges.
“Dana is a determine we embrace,” Purcell stated.
Evans is projected to be an early first-round decide within the WNBA draft partly due to her versatility. She hits 3s. Her quickness permits her to get to the basket and end with layups or brief jumpers. She will be able to change a recreation together with her protection.
Evans led the league in scoring (21 factors), free throw share (92%) and was second in assists with 110. The Cardinals’ street to the ACC championship in late February ran, fittingly, by way of South Bend. They wanted to beat Notre Dame to win the regular-season title.
That week, some Louisville gamers had been grousing over who ought to begin, and Walz turned irritated. So he put each participant’s title on a slip of paper, threw them right into a grocery bag and drew out his beginning 5. Freshman Merissah Russell was one of many 5 names drawn, and when she came upon that Evans’ title wasn’t picked out of the bag, she requested the coaches if the senior might begin in her place.
Evans scored 26 factors within the 78-61 victory. It was the fourth time in a row they’d overwhelmed the staff from her hometown state.
However as soon as the postseason began, Evans struggled. She scored a season-low eight factors towards Wake Forest within the Cardinals’ first recreation on the ACC match, and within the convention championship recreation towards NC State, Evans went 7-for-21 from the sector. She missed the potential profitable shot on the buzzer, and slumped to the ground, holding her face in her palms.
Her taking pictures hunch has persevered within the NCAA match. In response to ESPN Stats & Data analysis, she is scoring eight fewer factors per recreation in the course of the postseason, and has gone from a forty five% area aim share to 31%. She is taking pictures simply 17% from 3-point vary.
Within the first spherical towards Marist on Sunday, she struggled sufficient that Walz sat her on the bench for a lot of the third quarter to regroup. The tip is coming, and Evans was urgent. The following day, Walz tried to steer her that she’s greater than a scorer, and that she can assist in different methods.
Louisville performed Northwestern within the second spherical of the NCAA match Wednesday, and Evans missed six of her first seven photographs. The Cardinals fell behind by 18 factors, and every little thing Evans had spent 4 years working towards was slipping away. However she did not panic. She performed protection. She trusted herself; she trusted the method. She hit a 3-pointer that put the Cardinals up 50-45 with 4:32 to go, a shot that Walz known as “large.” She completed with 14 factors.
On a day through which Walz might’ve hammered away on the failings, he stated Evans was implausible. They get to play once more, on Sunday within the Candy 16. Evans has one other day and a lot nonetheless to show.