WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: UND junior has gone through transformation since first joining the team
Emily Evers has gone through plenty of transformation since she committed to the UND women’s basketball program six years ago as a high school junior. Still, her former coach sees the lasting elements that have made the college junior from Grand Forks special.
“Something that has never changed about Emily is she has always been such a team player,” said Kent Ripplinger, then-assistant coach, now-head coach at Grand Forks Red River. “That was the case at Red River, and it’s the same way now at UND. She puts the team first. She does whatever it takes to help her team. I’ve never seen a player like that in terms of always putting the team first. It’s refreshing to watch.”
Often first off the bench, Evers’ selfless style has been a catalyst for a North Dakota team making its first trip to the NCAA Division I tournament. No. 14 seed UND (22-9) plays No. 3 Texas A&M (24-8) at 7 p.m. Sunday in College Station, Texas. The game will air on ESPN2.
Evers, who received the Big Sky Conference Sixth Player award, averages 7.9 points and 6.0 rebounds. Her impact on games is even greater than those initial numbers might suggest.
Evers, who shoots a team-best 50.5 percent from the field, averages 16.2 minutes. She’s locked into an ideal rotation with 6-foot-4 senior center Allyssa Wall.
“It’s about quality, not quantity,” UND coach Travis Brewster said. “She changes the game offensively and defensively. She owns space defensively, whether she’s blocking shots, changing shots or taking a charge. Offensively, she’s starting to get a little skyhook going, too.”
It’s an impressive journey for Evers, who committed as a 6-foot-2 junior-to-be at Red River. Evers, who attended UND basketball camps at a young age, verbally committed before becoming a varsity regular for the Roughriders.
As a sophomore, Evers saw limited action on a senior-dominated Red River team. As a reserve, she played in 19 games, scored 14 points and had 17 rebounds all year.
But Evers was still maturing. She grew two inches between her sophomore and junior seasons in high school, where she was listed at 6-foot-3 as a senior. A few years later at UND, she grew to 6-5.
Evers achieved modest production in high school: 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a senior. She was sometimes overshadowed by talented posts locally — both Grand Forks Central’s Caitlin Farroh (N.D. Miss Basketball winner) and East Grand Forks Senior High’s Kate Warmack put up larger numbers at the same time in high school.
But then-UND head coach Gene Roebuck and Brewster, who was an assistant at the time, saw the promise in Evers.
“It started at a camp when Roebuck came up to me and said I’ve been playing well and have pride in the university, so if I work on my quickness, they’d offer me a scholarship,” Evers said. “When I heard that, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait. Two weeks later, I got a letter from Roebuck.”
Part of the family
Evers has UND in her blood.
Her mother, Margie Hutson Evers, was a standout in track at UND. Her cousin, Kyle Bondy, was an offensive lineman for the football team. Her biography page on the UND website lists numerous other family members as UND alums.
“It’s great to have her out of Grand Forks,” Brewster said. “You don’t always get to live out your dreams, and she does. That’s awesome.”
When she arrived on campus, Evers made strides immediately.
“Players of her stature come to the college level and get labeled as projects, but she showed spurts of being very athletic in high school,” Brewster said. “From her time in high school to now, she’s changed her work ethic, to be quite frank. She’s also gained confidence. Those are the biggest two things that have changed.
“When I say work ethic, I mean she’s ready to shoulder the responsibility to get us to go along as a team.”
Evers redshirted as a true freshman. As a redshirt freshman, she played in all 32 games off the bench and was named the 2012 Great West Conference Sixth Woman Award and All-Newcomer team. She recorded double-digit point totals seven times.
As a sophomore, Evers played in 27 games and made 21 starts. She averaged 8.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. She shot .537 from the field, good for third in the Big Sky — UND’s first year in the league.
As a junior, Evers has continued to produce. She’s also developed a leadership role. Her emotions-on-her-sleeve personality seems to generate energy, especially at home.
“She likes to have fun,” Brewster said. “It’s not normal to have a center like that. Most centers are quiet, but she’s understanding that basketball is a chance to be herself, be who you are and get after it. That comes with confidence.”
That was on display after she helped UND to a Big Sky crown last Saturday with a runaway victory over Montana. As players cut down the nets at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, Evers took a UND flag from supporter Loyall Jahnke and raced it around the court.
“I love when the crowd goes crazy,” Evers said. “That’s something I’ve always felt was part of my game — bringing energy and getting the crowd into it. I want them to get into it because it matches how I feel.”
Although a stronger and more polished player now, Evers’ personality hasn’t changed much from high school.
“She’s always been excited to play basketball,” said Ripplinger, whose daughter, Ellie, is a true freshman reserve for UND. “She gets excited for everyone else, too. She puts the team first. She’s the one jumping up and down for them and getting the crowd into it. That’s the kind of player she is.”