ECU guard ready to tangle with former foe
By Tony Castleberry
The Daily Reflector, Greenville (NC)
Saturday, January 20, 2007
At some point in tonight's men's basketball game between Memphis and host East Carolina, Pirate guard Brandon Evans will probably find himself matched up against Tiger point guard Willie Kemp.
When and if that happens, it won't be the first time.
Evans and Kemp, both 6-foot-2 freshmen, know each other well. They waged numerous battles against each other on Tennessee high school courts when Evans was prepping at Liberty Tech in Jackson and Kemp at Bolivar High in Bolivar.
"I'm familiar with (Kemp)," said Evans, who will try to help ECU (5-11, 0-3 Conference USA) upset 17th-ranked Memphis when the teams tip off at 6 p.m. in Minges. "I played against him for two years straight."
While Kemp was busy winning awards last year, including being named Tennessee's 2006 Class AA Mr. Basketball and earning Jackson Sun All-West Tennessee Player of the Year honors, Evans was bringing a state championship back to Jackson. Evans earned his ring in '06 after Kemp won consecutive AA state titles with Bolivar in 2004-05.
Kemp chose Memphis and has started all 17 games this season for coach John Calipari's Tigers (14-3, 4-0 C-USA), but Evans took a more circuitous route to playing Division I hoops. He originally signed with Murray State during the early signing period of '05, but a connection with an East Carolina assistant coach and a simple change of heart brought him to Greenville.
Pirate assistant coach Chris Ferguson was an assistant at the University of Tennessee for eight years and the Volunteers showed some interest in Evans while Ferguson was in Knoxville. After Ferguson left UT to join head coach Ricky Stokes' staff at ECU, Ferguson and Evans kept in touch and Evans eventually decided a Pirate uniform fit him best.
"I've known coach Ferguson for a while," said Evans, who played his first two years of prep basketball at Fayetteville's Westover High. "I was getting looked at by Tennessee while he was there. I just kind of changed my mind."
Evans' playing time has fluctuated greatly all season, but he's become more of an asset for Stokes in recent games since ECU guard Sam Hinnant was benched with a left leg injury that will keep him out for at least three more weeks. Junior guard Jeremy Ingram's injured right knee is limiting his minutes as well so Evans is seizing his opportunity to play while he can.
In ECU's 65-56 loss to Tulane Wednesday night, Evans scored a career-high 10 points — all in the second half — and played a career-high 22 minutes. It's a trend he hopes continues.
"I'm enjoying it," said Evans, who is one of East Carolina's most athletic and fearless players. "As a freshman, I'm just playing my role. That's the way I look at it. It hurts me that our players are hurt, but I've got to step in and try to step up too.
"I grew up being aggressive and I just want to attack the basket and be an aggressive player," he added. "I don't look at size or height or whatever. I just feel like I have enough heart to go in there just as well as (the big men) do."
While most of Evans' points this season have come after hard-charging drives into the paint, he showed his versatility the last couple of contests, knocking down the first three 3-pointers of his collegiate career, including a 2-of-2 effort from long range Wednesday. If Evans spends much time on the perimeter tonight, he'll likely find a familiar face — Kemp — charging out at him when he lets go of a 3-point attempt.
Even though Kemp has enjoyed much more success during his freshman season, Evans has no regrets about his decision to play at East Carolina, which has lost 10 of its last 11 games.
"I still see my future here," he said. "I think we're just a young team. We've got to come together and we're going to make things happen."
Tony Castleberry can be reached at (252) 329-9591 or at firstname.lastname@example.org