As the days have gotten closer to Friday’s season opener, South Arkansas Community College women’s basketball coach Nate Evans has gotten more eager to see exactly what type of team he has.
A former standout at Parkers Chapel, Evans became SouthArk’s coach in June with Nate Davis’ departure.
Evans got an early look over the weekend when the Stars played in a jamboree at SAU Tech, and he thinks the experience will be beneficial for his team.
“It was good experience for the freshmen to see what college basketball is like,” Evans said. “I’m interested to see how we take the pros and cons from this weekend and learn from them moving forward.”
With the dress rehearsals over, the season officially starts at noon today at Holmes (Miss.) Community College.
“Practice has been going really well,” Evans said of the workouts leading up to the season. “We’ve shifted more from running and conditioning and individual work to more team work, offensive and defensive schemes, trying to get everybody that’s new adjusted. It’s not a completely different system, but there are some tweaks being made, so even the returners have been having to learn some stuff. It’s been fun.
“The energy has been there every day. I’m impressed with how well with how they’ve jelled together with it being five returners and seven newcomers. I was a little curious to see how they would jell, but they’ve jelled really well. They’re a great group to work with. Everyone has been developing and getting stronger. We had a few come in with some knee injuries and ankle issues. Those have seemingly disappeared, so I like where we’re at.”
The roster has a trio of former Union County standouts with Strong’s Dyinasty Davis and Chrishunda Williams joining Smackover’s Brooke Patton.
Davis, who averaged 7.7 points per game last year, is back to help lead the backcourt.
“We call her the grandma because this will be her third year,” Evans said. “She’s going to be our ball-handler, our facilitator. She’s matured so much this past year. I’m really proud of where she’s at now. She’ll be handling the pressure for us, and she’s also one of our best shot-makers.”
Williams will be a key player in the paint for the Stars.
“She is by far our most improved player,” Evans said. “She’s gotten in great shape. She’s gotten stronger. She’s our six-foot post and our only true center, so she knew going in. I put a lot of pressure on her, and she’s done nothing but respond. I’m so proud of her and her development. My assistant coach, Clint Knighton, has been on her every single day. He’s our strength and conditioning guy, so she’s heard more yelling and correction than anybody else. I love where she’s at.”
The roster also has a Louisiana fervor to it with a pair of freshmen expected to make an immediate impact.
Lexi Parker, who is from Winnsboro, La., was lauded by Evans for her shooting.
“Since Day One, she’s come in and just impressed,” Evans said. “You can tell right away when you see her play that she’s aggressive and one of our best shooters.”
But the biggest prize was landing Kylee Portilloz from Choudrant, La. Portilloz signed with the Stars when Davis was the coach, but she stayed at SouthArk after he left.
“She’s going to be our guy,” Evans said. “How she plays is how we’ll play. She’s 5-11, can shoot the three, can post and drive and handle the rock, can defend one through five. She’s already had four-year coaches reach out to her. I’m blessed to have her. I don’t know how we did it, but she’s a steal.”
Louisiana has become a recruiting pipeline for all of SouthArk’s sports for their 2022 recruiting classes, and while Evans got a late start, he was thrilled to land the duo.
“When you compare to the other programs on campus, I think I’m the latest to the game,” Evans said. “We’ve only got two from Louisiana and from out of state and every other team has got multiple. But I think it’s just so good for us to scope out farther when we get more comfortable with places to live and get more in contact with coaches and further expand your program. I know the first few years we were very local-based, it’s just been really big for us to go and recruit those North Louisiana kids. I don’t know where our team would be without those two. It’s just really big for us. I’m excited to see it moving forward. We’ve had a few 23’s on campus already for next year from Louisiana and from Texas even, so I’m trying to catch up.”
With the early signing period set to begin, Evans said recruiting has been going well.
“It’s been awesome,” Evans said. “That was probably priority No. 1 from the jump is once we had the team planned out for this year was going ahead and getting those girls on campus before schools started, before their seasons started, getting them to see our campus and meeting me as a new coach and trying to get some buy-in and get some girls interested in this culture that we’re building here. We’ve had 13, maybe 14 or more 23’s on campus. Every other day we were having a tour.”
Evans said the Stars are quicker than a year ago and that their unselfishness will be a strength.
“We’re quicker than we were last year,” Evans said. “We share the ball very well. I thought that was going to be the hardest thing to adjust this year, but that’s one of the things I’ve had to coach the least amount. They’re unselfish. We don’t care who shoots the shot, we don’t care who leads our team in points. We’re going to move the ball, we’re going to feed the post this year, which I’m really, really excited for because that’s going to open up things on the outside. We’re not going to be the most athletic team, we’re just not, but I’m OK with that.
“We can slow it down a little bit. We’re going to be up tempo when we need to be, but for the most part, we’re going to be half-court, move the ball, get some advantages on some high closeouts. Defensively, we’re going to pack it in. We’re going to sprint back and set up in a pack-line defense. Coach (Tony) Bennett at Virginia is who I idolize with their defense, and until I see that scheme of our program of being really athletic to hang with the SAU Tech’s and the North Ark’s and the ASU-Mid-South’s, we’re going to have to play our style, play it really well, limit turnovers, share the ball and play help defense. That’s going to be who we are.”
With a plethora of freshmen and a busy November slate, the Stars will be tested early, and Evans said the lack of experience is a concern he has.
“We’ve got 60% of our team is freshman newcomers,” Evans said. “I’m not worried about our returners as much, but that’s a concern I have is seeing how these freshmen adapt to playing that faster pace game when teams try to speed us up, and you’ve got girls that are bigger, faster and stronger than you.
“I’m excited to see how we handle adversity. I’m not concerned about how we handle it, but that’s always a question that coaches worry about. You don’t know who you are until you get punched in the mouth is what I like to say. I’m not concerned about it, but that’s one thing I would highlight is who are we when we play somebody else. Another thing is I would like to have about 15 on the roster moving forward every year. Right now, we’ve got 12. You never hope for it, but it’s always in the back of your mind when you deal with injuries. Our November is crammed, so right away they’ll be seasoned vets by the end of the month.”
Virginia won the national championship in 2019 and has been one of the top teams in the ACC thanks coach Tony Bennett’s suffocating defense.
Now Evans is hoping to emulate that success.
“I like to state the obvious that there’s nothing really new in basketball and coaches steal and adjust and take things from different coaches and make it their own,” Evans said. “My high school team at Parkers Chapel, we ran that pack-line for conference. They were very athletic and we weren’t. We were a bunch of spot-up shooters, so we took it to our advantage.
“There’s no right or wrong system, there’s no one way to win. For our team, I think it will be really good for us. I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m not hiding what we’re going to run. We’re going to switch everything one through four, we’re going to double down in the post, we’re going to make teams beat us from the outside.
“If we’re doing our job right, get back in transition and stop the ball and then play together is the best way I decided until we have the roster that I look at and we can speed teams up and make them turn the ball over.”
Evans has several goals he wants his team to achieve, and in order to reach them, there will be several factors for the Stars.
“Our goals are to have a winning record, go past the first round of region and have one player named to the All-Region team, which would a first for the women’s team,” Evans said. “For everything to go right, I think we have to be able to handle adversity well, being able to adapt on the fly, continue to share the ball, stay in shape, stay healthy and just play together and keep our heads high.
“I’m really, really, really ready to see how we handle adversity because the teams we’re playing are no gimmes. One of the keys that I think is getting even closer and the chemistry getting even better as the season goes on.”
But if there was one thing Evans made clear, it was that everyone on the roster was going to have a role on the team.
“Everybody is going to find some type of role,” Evans said. “We’re pretty even throughout one through 12, so I’m excited.”