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Archbishop Wood's Deja Evans trusts gut, commits to Albany

06/28/2022, 10:30am EDT
By Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

Deja Evans kept getting the same advice throughout her college recruitment process.

Whether it was from her parents, her coaches or her older brother Chris, the people the rising senior forward at Archbishop Wood trusted most kept telling her the same thing: No matter how much she trusted them, in the end the decision would be hers to make, so she should go with her gut feeling.

For Evans, there was only one choice following that advice as she pledged to the first Division I program that had offered her, committing to the University of Albany on June 16.

“From the beginning, they showed me that they loved me a lot,” Evans said. “They continued to build a relationship with me and when I came up to visit the school, they made it feel like home. They showed they really care about their players and how they’re doing.”

A 6-foot-2 forward, Evans made her first season at Archbishop Wood a memorable one by helping the Vikings to a second straight PIAA 4A title and doing it with a state title game record 20 rebounds in Hershey. That capped a state playoff run of five straight double-double performances that in turn helped earn Evans a spot on the PA Sportswriters Class 4A all-state third team.

Archbishop Wood's Deja Evans committed to the University of Albany earlier this month. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Evans, who resides in Conshohocken, played her first two years of high school at PW before transferring to Wood last summer. The forward is also a member of the Philly Belles 2023 Bluestar national team, where she plays with Vikings teammate Delaney Finnegan under coach Michael Steidle.

What stood out right away to Wood coach Mike McDonald, aside from Evans’ knack for rebounding, was her willingness to be coached and how quickly she fit in with the players already in the program. 

“I think her best years are still ahead of her and she’s just starting to scratch the surface,” McDonald said. “She came in and was actually a little timid in a couple ways but as the year went on and the competition stepped up, she started to thrive. Obviously in states, averaging a double-double, you could see what she can do and I think Albany got a great one.”

Basketball is in the Evans family and while she tried a few other sports like volleyball and softball, the hardwood was always home. Her dad played in high school and steered Deja toward the game but it was Chris, nine years her elder, that arguably has had the biggest influence on her career.

“I knew it was going to take a lot of work, so that’s when I started working out with my brother,” Evans said. “He’s the one that really put me through a lot of drills and made me work hard. Basketball, I was just drawn to it. I love the competition, I’m a very competitive person.”

Her brother Chris Evans played at Norristown then went on to play in college at Chestnut Hill, where he is currently an assistant coach. Watching Chris, a 2018 CHC graduate, carry his career to the next level pushed Deja to want to do the same.

The day before she committed, Evans had what she called a “really good conversation” with Albany coach Colleen Mullen over the phone. When she and Chris, who has become Deja’s trainer, confidant and mentor, went to work out afterward, he gave her that same advice.

“He said they’re really showing you that they love you and they put it all on the table for you,” Deja Evans said. “He said ‘just go with your gut, you know what’s right for you.’”

The Great Danes gave Evans her first Division I offer in August of 2021 and while she picked up a few more over the past 10 months, she would inevitably compare each one to Albany. On her visit, Evans and her family got to watch a practice and after getting a chance to speak with a few current Great Danes players, she kept getting the same feeling that the relationship between the coaches and players was real.

“I’m just really excited and thankful I was able to commit to a Division I program and have a chance to play after high school,” Evans said.

After the state title game in March, Evans talked about seeing every rebound as a chance to give her team another possession and it’s why she works so hard to get as many as possible. With her height and her strength, it’s easy to see why she thrives down low but Evans has a much wider set of skills.

Part of the reason McDonald thinks the senior’s best years are in front of her is her versatility. She doesn’t have to be next to the rim to be effective and it’s something the Wood coaches are hoping to use more this coming season.

“She’ll be able to go in there and be able to help them,” McDonald said. “She’s working on her 3-point shooting, she shoots pretty well when she’s open. She’s great on the wing where she can attack, she’s gotten better with her back to the basket and defensively, she can guard a lot of different kids. She’s going to be able to defend a lot of players at that level and she’ll continue to put in work to get better on the perimeter.”

Evans said the Albany staff does see her in a versatile role and she’s eager to keep finding different ways to help her team win.

Wood doesn’t formally vote on team captains, but the coaches do poll all the players to get their thoughts before naming the next year’s leaders. McDonald said that even with just one year in the program, Evans was named by every returning player and will fill a captain's spot in 2022-23.

“I just want to lead my team to a PCL championship and state championship,” Evans said. “I want to try and help everyone get better and get to the level they want to get to.”

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