Karen Kemp knew how good Siarre Evans was and knew she wanted the versatile wing player from Spalding at East Tennessee State.
Evans liked Chattanooga, but an offer came too late. Georgia Southern offered, and Evans liked Jacksonville, but a visit couldn’t be worked out. ETSU had dropped off on recruiting Evans but returned to the picture.
So Evans made the trek to Johnson City, Tenn.
“She didn’t talk a lot on her visit,” said Kemp, ETSU’s veteran head coach. “So it was a surprise when she came to me before she ended her visit to say she wanted to commit.”
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Soon enough, Evans found a comfort zone and was more talkative. The next stumbling block was on the court.
“She stepped out on the court, and we knew instantly she was going to be an all-conference player,” Kemp said. “It was just obvious she was so focused in so many ways.”
But Evans was reluctant to let her skills show, in deference to upperclassmen. She didn’t want to be disruptive.
“I was going to wait my turn,” Evans said. “I knew from high school to college was a hard transition.”
Kemp actually had to deal with unselfishness as an Evans weakness. She had too much of it.
“We had many conversations about that,” Kemp said. “We told her, ‘This isn’t high school.
“All these players are worried about is winning, and winning a championship. I promise you, if you’re out there and you’re the leading scorer every night and we win ballgames, they’re gonna love you even more.’
“So once she got that in her head ...”
Once she got that in her head, the resume simply took off and exploded, and the skills that filled that resume will be on display this week at the A-Sun tournament at Mercer’s University Center.
And there’s nothing not to love about Evans’ four years at ETSU.
The Lady Bucs are 81-43 since Evans arrived for the 2006-07 season, after which she made the A-Sun all-freshman and all-conference team. They’ve won the past two tournament championships and were also regular-season champs in 2007-08.
She will get her fourth all-conference nod today. Evans was the preseason player of the year for this season and has made two A-Sun all-tournament teams with one MVP.
Evans has been consistent, once she realized she was supposed to do her thing and teammates would like it.
She has 18 double-doubles this season and 51 for her 122-game career.
In ETSU’s home win over Mercer, Evans became the third ETSU player and eighth in A-Sun history to score 1,000 points and get 1,000 rebounds. She enters the tournament with 1,745 points and 1,076 rebounds and is fifth on the program’s scoring list and third in rebounding.
And Evans remains unselfish.
“I still pass a lot,” she said. “You’ve got to get your teammates involved. You can’t be a complete team if people don’t feel like they’re part of the team. They don’t work as hard, so I do my best to keep everybody involved in the game.”
Evans, who graduates in May with a major in sports management and minor in coaching, arrived at ETSU with the same weakness as most freshmen: defense. Eventually, that became the next mountain to conquer.
“We had a lot of prayer meetings about that defense,” Kemp said. “She finally realized she had to step up her defense.”
Then, after being named player of the year and conference tournament MVP as a junior, Evans’ goal for this season was to become be the conference’s defensive player of the year. A nagging knee problem slowed her down and limited how much she could do on that end of the court, but it didn’t slow down her hunger.
“(USC) Upstate, they have a post player, (Chelsea) McMillan, who the first time against us when they beat us, she had 31 points,” Kemp said of one of ETSU’s two A-Sun losses. “The two or three days we were preparing for them, Siarre (said) every day, ‘Coach, I wanna guard her, I wanna guard her.’ That’s a guard asking to guard a post player.
“She actually had that opportunity during the game and did a tremendous job.”
Evans earned her seventh career conference player of the week honor Monday, a fitting end to her final regular season.
The 5-foot-11 guard also leaves making as much noise off the court as on.
“She was probably the toughest kid I have ever recruited as far as getting her to talk on the phone,” Kemp said. “All of her answers to my comments or questions were ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ ”
A few weeks after getting to know her coaches and teammates and being used to being far from home, things changed. A lot.
”Today, I have to tell Siarre to be quiet; sometimes I wish she would just answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ ” Kemp said with a laugh. “She has grown and matured so much.”
And Evans nears the end of her exemplary college career with a regular-season championship, a 20-win season, the conference tournament is just down the road from Griffin.
When ETSU played at Mercer in early January, Evans had about 50 or so friends and family on hand, and she delighted them with a 22-point, 20-rebound performance.
This visit has a bit more importance, because one mountain remains.
“I’m not done yet,” Evans said. “It’s been a good career so far, but my last goal is to win a game in the NCAAs.”
Kemp has faith.
“She’s just special,” Kemp said. “It’s once in a lifetime that you have a player and person like Siarre.”