As Derrick Rose ascended to NBA greatness, 25 minutes away, a young woman in Gary watched and modeled his game after hers. She admired his speed and explosiveness, the way he drove to the basket. She would even choose the same jersey number as Rose, number 1, and later in her career she would choose number 11 to be closer to his inspiration.
More than a decade later, that young Gary girl made her WNBA debut.
“I loved everything he did,” Chicago Sky guard Dana Evans told the Tribune. ”Obviously I can shoot 3s well, but I love getting to the basket. I just think he was exciting because of how fast he was.
“He was a shorter player… he was something like medium size. I just had this advantage over him. He had this chip on his shoulder every time he played. He just knew what he wanted to do. And he was so determined and focused. He just loved it.”
By fourth grade, Evans was involved in ballet and nationally ranked in the 400-meter indoor track, but had never played basketball. She saw a sign outside her elementary school gym about girls’ basketball tryouts and decided to give it a try. Her father, Damon Evans, thought it was a joke.
“I thought I was going to try out to be a cheerleader,” she said with a laugh. “And it felt so natural to him. She followed her older brothers to the gym. She just took it.”
Dana vividly remembers the moment.
“I didn’t have any basketball pants or shorts on,” he said. “I didn’t have elite tights or anything. But I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to try it.’ And I told my dad and he was laughing because he said, ‘You never practiced,’ and I literally made the team.”
He fell in love with basketball and immediately stood out. Damon and Dana believe that her time as a dancer and runner made her a better athlete.
Damon used to take his daughter to the Sky games. She was into basketball and she was pretty good at it, and he wanted to encourage her to keep playing. Basketball was not only a way of bonding with her daughter, but he believed that she was her future and would tell her how much she wanted her to play for the Sky when she grew up so he could attend all the games. home games.
“She went to her first Chicago Sky game in fifth or sixth grade,” he said. “And I remember they were playing Sparks and Candace (Parker) didn’t play that game. I don’t remember what was going on, but…[Dana’s]eyes just lit up. And I knew this was the dream for her. Once we’d go to a game, we kept coming back, and it’s been exciting to see her reach her goal.”
Throughout his career, Evans has relied on his father’s advice and recommendations.
“I’m a daddy’s girl,” she said. “My dad really knew about my life before it really happened. Honestly, he already knew what was going to happen. He knew what it was going to be like in college. When he tells me things, I always believe him because they always end up coming true. It’s like, OK, well, he already saw it coming.”
At 5 feet 6 inches, Evans would go on to become one of Gary’s best basketball players. She was the first Steel City girl to be selected for the McDonald’s All-American Game.
When Evans was considering her college options, her father told her that Louisville was the best fit for both where she was and the player she would become. She made the ACC All-Freshman team in 2018. She then went from ACC Sixth Player of the Year in 2019 to ACC Player of the Year in both her junior and senior seasons. In her senior year, Evans averaged 20.1 points and 3.9 assists while shooting 43% from the field and 35.3% from 3-point range.
Then it was time for Evans to go to the next level.
A lifelong Chicago sports fan, Damon wanted his daughter to play in Chicago.
“I’ve always been a fan of Chicago, whether it’s the Bulls, the Bears or the White Sox,” he said. “I mean, we live in Indiana but we’re very close to Chicago. We get all the Chicago stations. So for her, going to Chicago was just a dream come true. Before the draft, we talked about different scenarios and things of that nature, and from day one I told him that Chicago was the place I wanted him to go.
The Dallas Wings selected Evans with the 13th pick in the 2021 WNBA draft. The Wings, who had depth at point guard, traded Evans to the Sky in June, just six games into his rookie season. Damon Evans was right once again: Dana was joining his idol Parker and the Sky in Chicago.
For Damon, it was one of the best moments of his life. For Dana, it was another dream come true.
“I remember seeing Courtney Vandersloot and Sylvia Fowles,” he said. “Now I am playing with them and playing against them. Is very good.
Evans affectionately refers to Parker as “Mama Candace” because he said the 15-year veteran gives good life advice.
In her first season with the Sky, Evans played 23 games and was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team after leading all rookies with an 88.5% free throw shooting percentage and finishing second in 3-point shooting percentage.
In fact, his 3-point shot was the highlight of Sky’s championship season. Evans played 15 minutes in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals against the Phoenix Mercury with Sky at large. She hit three 3-pointers in a row after not feeling like she had a chance at her.
When asked if he had revisited the moment, he said, “I really had it on repeat for a while. I was like, ‘Be you. Why not?’ That was my mindset. So when I shot the first one, I was like, ‘Okay, finally.’ So I hit the second. I’m like, ‘OK, you have to shoot again.’ However, he only knew that he was going to do that. I knew that was good.”
The Sky won by 36 points to take a 2-1 lead in the series. They won Game 4 for the first championship in franchise history.
His father was not surprised.
“She is a workaholic. She is a perfectionist,” she said. “She will not stop until she reaches that level of greatness.
“I saw her grow as a woman, as a basketball player and as a person. She’s very inspiring to the young women and men in Gary because there aren’t many feel-good stories here. So for her to be someone they can look at and say, ‘Wow, this is someone who made it. She had a lot going against her, and for her to pull it off, it’s a dream come true.”
He said his co-workers at the steel mill where he works 12-hour shifts switch shifts with him so he can attend his daughter’s games as much as possible.
In May, Jordan Brand announced that Evans had become “the first NBA or WNBA player to win a championship in Chicago to sign with Jordan Brand since MJ.”
And Evans, who also has an endorsement deal with OpulenceMD Beauty, is just getting started. Winning a championship and signing with Jordan Brand had been lifelong goals.
When asked about being seen as part of Heaven’s future, she was quiet for a second.
“I can’t even think of a word really because it’s mind blowing to me,” he said. “Seeing that people really believe in you. Because I feel like a lot of times a lot of people didn’t, but people who say you’re the future show that they believe in you. They see something in you.
“And it makes me want to keep doing more and more and keep working hard because I can see it. I can feel it. I feel like I’m getting better every day in practice with great players, great coaches. We have a variety of different coaches with different points of view. So I keep growing my game. I think I can really do some good things.”
Besides Rose and Parker, Evans said his favorite players are Kobe Bryant, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi and LeBron James.
She hopes to one day be on some little girl’s list, and Heaven is just the beginning.