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Through trials and tribulations, Evans has stayed the course at UVa

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 9:00 pm

His best friend had left the program the year before, the academics were more challenging than he could have ever imagined, and his team had just culminated an up-and-down season with a horrific loss.

It was then, after his sophomore season, that Virginia guard Jontel Evans briefly thought about transferring.

But then Evans remembered what his mother had always told him ever since he was a little boy.

“She taught me that things aren’t always going to be easy,” Evans said, “and that when they get hard, you can’t just quit.”

For good measure, Trina Evans had a conversation with her son right around that time.

“I said you’ve got to finish what you start,” she recalled. “You can’t just stop in the middle. You just have to go through the journey.”

On Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, the journey nears an end when Evans plays the final home game of his career against Maryland.

No doubt, Evans has had an interesting plight.

Nicknamed “Bub” by his mother as a child, the 5-foot-11 point guard was originally recruited by former Virginia coach Dave Leitao. 

When UVa and Leitao parted ways in the spring of 2009, Evans and fellow recruit Tristan Spurlock weren’t sure if they still wanted to come aboard.

But Virginia coach Tony Bennett paid Evans an in-home visit and Evans says he could tell right away that Bennett “seemed like a players’ coach.”

The Hampton native says he’ll never forget the scripture that Bennett quoted right as he was leaving their house.

“He said, ‘Those live by faith and not by sight,’” Evans said.

It was at that moment that Evans says he decided to take a leap of faith that Virginia was the place for him.

“He was kind of worried about where he was going to go after Leitao was gone,” Trina Evans recalled. “I told him to just follow his heart, go to where you need to be, and he did just that.”

When Evans arrived at Virginia, he formed a strong bond with Spurlock. The pair became inseparable.

However, while Evans was playing substantial minutes as a freshman, Spurlock was riding the bench.

That spring, Spurlock decided to transfer to Central Florida — a development that stung Evans.

Evans’ sophomore season then ended on a sour note when Virginia blew a late lead to Miami in the ACC Tournament.

But last season was a breakout one for Evans. He teamed with former star Mike Scott to lead Virginia to its first NCAA Tournament in five years and was voted to the All-ACC Defensive Team.

It was Evans’ father, Walter, who had harped on defense from a very young age.

“He always said that if I wanted to play at the highest level I had to learn to play really good defense,” Evans said.

Trina Evans recalls Walter getting mad at their son when he once skipped an AAU practice to attend a fifth-grade graduation party.

“He was hard on him,” she said, laughing. “I had to play referee sometimes.”

This season has been one of Evans’ most challenging.

In October, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot — an injury that forced him out of the lineup on three occasions within the season’s first two months.

In the loss at Boston College on Sunday, he dribbled the ball out of bounds as time expired.

And Evans has struggled with his jump shot more than ever — to the point where Florida State was barely guarding him on Thursday.

Suffice to say, the 18-year-old Evans may not have been able to handle everything.

Trina Evans says watching her son’s maturation over the last four years — he was baptized during that time — has been special. She refers to Bennett and coaching staff members Ritchie McKay, Ron Sanchez, Jason Williford, Brad Soucie and Ronnie Wideman as her son’s “godfathers.”

“He’s more positive, more patient,” she said. “I always tell him, ‘You’re not the same 18-year-old boy I brought up here. Sometimes I say, ‘Where’s Bub?’ I say, ‘Now you really are Jontel.’”

Junior Akil Mitchell says Virginia would be nowhere without Evans.

“He’s a born leader,” Mitchell said. “When it’s going really good, he’ll take the credit and when it’s going really bad, he’ll take the [blame].”

Bennett says he is “thankful” that Leitao recruited Evans.

“For me, he’s been a joy to coach,” Bennett said. “I’ve seen him mature...he’s really grown up.”

What makes Trina Evans most proud is the fact that her son will be the first from the family to ever graduate from college.

“He’s my inspiration sometimes,” said Evans, a hair stylist who has missed just two Virginia games in four years. “To go to such a prestigious school like that — it’s not easy. You have to find your way to make it work.”

Last season, Evans proudly cut the hair of her son and Scott after they had promised not to do so until they had made the NCAA Tournament.

On Sunday, she’ll join a large contingent of family members on the court for Senior Day festivities.

“It will be a special day,” she said. “We’ve learned so much through his life. He’s given us a lot. We’re all proud of him.”

At this point, it could be an uphill climb for Virginia to make the NCAA Tournament, but there’s nothing that Evans would like to do more than to end his career with a second-straight trip to the Big Dance.

“Even Mike Scott never did that,” he said.

No matter what, Evans — the first Virginia player to play all four years under Bennett — says he’s glad he stuck it out.

“When you work for it, you appreciate it and it means more,” he said.  “You can’t just expect for things to be given to you, and that’s what it was all about.”

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