Do-everything Evans UK women's longtime leader on, off court

jsmith3@herald-leader.comFebruary 28, 2014 

  • Vanderbilt at No. 12 Kentucky

    When: 4 p.m. Sunday

    TV: ESPN2

The pause on the other end of the line was the longest and most uncomfortable in history.

Kastine Evans, then a player at Norwich Free Academy in Connecticut, called Kentucky's coaches on the day of her college announcement.

"I don't know what happened," she told the UK staff over speaker phone. "I just got to the mic and I just didn't pick you.'"

Silence. Dead silence.

Evans couldn't handle it any longer.

"I was like, 'Naw, I'm playing. I'm coming to Kentucky,'" she said.

It's a moment that changed both her and UK for the better.

"The University of Kentucky is better because Kastine Evans decided to come here," Coach Matthew Mitchell said on Friday, two days before No. 12 Kentucky faces Vanderbilt in the final game of the regular season.

It will be Senior Day for four UK seniors, DeNesha Stallworth, Bernisha Pinkett, Samarie Walker and Evans, who have been one of the winningest groups to walk through the Memorial Coliseum hallways.

Evans is the undisputed leader of the team.

When the Cats have had inexplicable losses this season, it's Evans calling the players-only meetings and demanding the team run the steps at their home arena.

She's not the star player — averaging just 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in her UK career, including 8.9 points this season — but she's started 87 games and always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

She's had the big steal, the big shot, the big charge when needed.

And those moments have come even as she often plays out of position. The senior understands the game so well she's been called on to play nearly every spot on the floor in her four seasons.

"She's been willing to play any position," Mitchell said of the 5-foot-8 guard. "She played a bunch of power forward in her time here and that was clearly not the greatest position for her to be but mentally she could handle and physically she was always tough.

"And so just a really, really great player for Kentucky and someone who I would like for my daughters to try to emulate. That's how much I think of her."

This isn't because Mitchell wants his young daughters to be basketball players one day.

"I was impressed with her and excited when we signed her, but I don't think you can ever anticipate somebody being as strong as she is in just every area of her life," he said. "She's a very high-character young woman, has a sense of purpose. ... She wants other people around her to do well."

While getting her degree in business management, she's earned a 4.0 grade-point average in the fall semesters of 2013, 2012 and 2011.

She did that all while starting her own non-profit organization locally called "Shooting at Success," where she meets with elementary school kids to discuss character and academics and making good decisions.

For those efforts and others like cleaning rooms at the Ronald McDonald House, packing backpacks for God's Pantry, ringing bells for the Salvation Army and any number of other projects, Evans has been named to numerous Community Service teams. She was inducted into UK's Society of Character.

As much as she's tried to do for UK and the community, it's given back to her, Evans said on Friday.

"The people here have pushed me to be the best Kastine I can be," she said. "I've learned so many things about myself. ... I've been through struggles, I've been through successes on and off the court."

When she graduates in May, she's hoping to earn the prestigious "Victory Scholarship" to allow her to play overseas in Ireland and go to school. She'd like to start out as a coach one day, but she's open to lots of options.

Evans can do anything. Mitchell is sure of it.

Except comedian. He doesn't think she is very good at that after her signing day antics a few short years ago.

"She tried to play a little joke on me that day and I just told her she needed to stick with basketball," he said with a smile.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com.

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