Published April 01. 2013 4:00AM
To think this was the same guy who wore UConn blue all season. R.J. Evans. Motor running constantly as a proud UConn basketball player, student section at the women's games … suddenly trading in his dogs for the 'Cats.
To think this was the same mom and dad, Ray and Deborah, at all the UConn games this season, rooting on R.J. … suddenly trading in their Husky blue for bluegrass.
Yes. This was the same Evans family singing "My Old Kentucky Home" earlier this weekend in Bridgeport, which is located not far from their old Connecticut home of Salem.
"Family first," R.J. Evans said.
Indeed. The Evans family, and many of their friends who spent the winter watching the Huskies, has one of their own in the Bridgeport Regional. Daughter Kastine, a former Norwich Free Academy great right there with her brother, is a junior at Kentucky, trumping all previous rooting interests.
"But," Kastine was saying earlier in the weekend, "I bet R.J. will have a UConn shirt underneath his Kentucky shirt."
Close. R.J. Evans, who played three years at Holy Cross and finished his athletic eligibility with a year at Connecticut, wore UConn warmup pants to complete the ensemble Saturday. Evans wore a blue Kentucky shirt that read, "Kastine's Homecoming."
"UConn was very good to my son," Ray Evans said Saturday. "But this is a great opportunity for Kastine and Kentucky."
The opportunity: a chance at the program's first Final Four. Kentucky and UConn play tonight in Bridgeport in the regional final. The winner gets the full Arlo Guthrie, riding to the city of New Orleans.
It's been quite the memorable weekend for Kastine, win or lose tonight. She was the subject of stories in several state newspapers, detailing her humanitarian work in college:
She visited Ethiopia last summer where she helped renovate houses and play sports with children. She launched her own non-profit organization in January, "Shooting for Success," helping children from low-income families in the Lexington region.
Evans also volunteered last summer at the Ronald McDonald House in Lexington with teammate Samarie Walker and even volunteered as a Salvation Army bellringer near the holidays.
And then came the game, the regional semifinal against the fighting Delle Donnes. Just when Delaware was about to erase a 14-point deficit in the final few minutes, Evans stuck the game's biggest shot, a three-pointer with 2:27 left that pushed the lead to five.
Kastine has been one of the great stories here, on and off the floor.
It was off the floor where she commanded much of the Kentucky rooting section. That's why Ray Evans spent one of the media timeouts waving a giant, red and white NFA flag.
"A lot of people from NFA are here for Kastine," he said, "and I want them to know how much we appreciate it."
The folks from our corner of the world weren't merely from NFA. Even former East Lyme football great Eric McGlone was in attendance, wearing the requisite Kentucky blue.
Kastine Evans has done her friends and family as proud as R.J. did during the winter. It wasn't merely what he did playing for the men. It's the way he conducted himself, positive and upbeat playing or not. And leading the cheers at the women's games with most of his teammates.
This was a memorable winter at UConn for many reasons, not the least of which was the Glasnost between the men's and women's programs. Just as it should be.
"They come to all of our games and I thought we should be at theirs," Evans said. "It's a mutual thing."
They just didn't sit there and act too cool for school either. They were in the student section, jumping around with all the others. Evans smirked when he learned that a UConn official said the only reason Ryan Boatright made the front row for the Notre Dame game was because of a crush on Skylar Diggins.
"Definitely possible," Evans said. "I could see that. He probably had his best clothes on, just for her."
All this and a sense of humor, too.
You can find the Evans gang tonight right behind the Kentucky bench hootin and howlin for Kastine and the Cats. You'll surely hear them. They have a lot to cheer.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.