Posted: Jan 31, 2013 3:46 PM
Junior guard Kastine Evans led what many would call a "comfortable life" growing up in Salem, Conn. Her father Ray played professional football for the New York Jets and now coaches a local AAU boys basketball team, her mother is a financial director for a major pharmaceutical company and her older brother R.J. is currently pursuing his master's degree while playing on the University of Connecticut men's basketball team.
Despite spending the majority of her life as a star athlete, including in high school at Norwich Free Academy and now as a member of the No. 8/7 Kentucky women's basketball team, Evans has always made it a priority to give back to the community and make an impact in children's lives.
In January, Evans started a non-profit after-school program called "Shooting at Success." The organization‘s focus is a 10-week program that runs on Mondays at two local churches in the Fayette County area. Evans rotates every other week between Broadway Christian Church and Crossroads Christian Church where she teaches groups of 50 kids from low-income households between the grades of second and fifth life lessons on building character.
"I came up with the idea of ‘Shooting at Success' by realizing that basketball or sports in any way are a great tool to get through to young kids," Evans said, who has partnered with the Lexington Leadership and Urban Impact to found the program. "It's very fun, but at the same time you can teach them discipline, you can teach them hard work, you can teach them different things that they will learn in the classroom but also on the basketball court. It's a great way to reach out to kids on a common level and just at the same time be able to be important figures in their lives because they are looking forward to something that's coming up in the week and just being able to relay any message that you try to get through in a sport like basketball."
In an effort to build character in the kids, Evans repeatedly references honesty, discipline, sacrifice and opportunity - the four pillars of the UK program instilled by head coach Matthew Mitchell. She even brings in guest speakers to talk to the students about the meaning of each word. What this does is give the children a viewpoint from student-athletes and other college students who have persevered through trying circumstances themselves.
"Being able to talk to these kids at a very young age where they are very vulnerable to different things and situations that are going on in their lives right now may make a difference for them later on in life," Evans said.
Her charitable efforts extend well beyond serving children in the Lexington area.
Last summer, Evans went on a service trip to Ethiopia with seven other female UK student-athletes and members of the athletic department staff. The group spent a week dedicated to serving the citizens of the African nation and Evans returned stateside with a new outlook on life and an inspiration to give back.
What stood out most to Evans from the trip was coming to understand the everyday struggle of the people she served. Even in the face of poverty, the natives always found joy in their lives through faith and a sense of community.
"You see these people who have nearly nothing," Evans said. "They don't have running water, they don't have toilets, they don't have food, they don't have clothes, they don't have any of the basic necessities to life but they still smile every day and they were happy that we were there. You could just see that sense of hope and joy in their heart and that's something that's stronger than any struggle you'll have as long as you have that faith and keep a strong mind and heart."
Evans says she began realizing it was her duty to help the world at a young age; her mom and dad always raised her to look beyond her own existence. Since Evans and her siblings graduated from high school, her father still gives back to their community. For the last three years he has coached a local AAU team comprised of players who have gotten cut from their local high school teams. He makes the two-hour drive to New York every other week to showcase his players' talents against some of the best competition in the state. Since he began the team, nine of his players have gone on to play collegiate basketball.
Evans put her parents' lessons into practice with teammate Samarie Walker last summer, volunteering one day a week to clean rooms at the local Ronald McDonald House, a "home away from home" for seriously ill children and their families. Even with the jam-packed schedule of a student-athlete, Evans has always seemed to find time to lend a helping hand.
When it came time to deciding where she would attend college and play basketball, Evans' decision was an easy one. After getting to know Coach Mitchell, she recognized in him and his program the same beliefs and morals that she learned from a young age.
"Anybody that asks me why I came here, a lot of the decision came down to the coaches and their principles and how they care about you," Evans said. "It's not just about basketball and that's what is going to develop us into great women."
Evans plays a key role for the Wildcats, being primarily the first player off the bench and averaging the most minutes among the reserves. Her character shines through on the court, as Coach Mitchell calls her "the glue that holds the team together."
Evans hopes to bring back the life lessons she learned from Africa and influence the young kids of her "new hometown" of Lexington, where she has spent the last three years of her life. Her intimate involvement with "Shooting at Success" demands hours of her precious time, but will all be made worthwhile by achieving one simple goal.
"One thing I hope that comes out of this is to be able to at least reach one kid," Evans said. "It's going to be real hard to reach all 50 kids, but to at least be able to get one or maybe two that's the best thing to be able to reach out to them and know that somebody else is there looking after them even when they go home. To know me personally and the people through Lexington Leadership and Urban Impact are here to work with them and hopefully they will take different strides than maybe some of their older siblings or parents have taken and become successful within themselves."