So far this season James Madison's 5'7" senior point guard Dawn Evans has (deep breath here) ... led the Dukes (23--7; 16--2) to their first outright Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title since 1989; set a new CAA career scoring mark (2,589 points and counting); led the nation in scoring (her 23.6 ppg ranks second to Kevi Luper of Oral Roberts, 24.0) and earned a place on every national player of the year watch list. Not bad for someone who has to sit out some practices.
Evans rations her energy because she suffers from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), the same kidney disease that interrupted the NBA careers of Sean Elliott and Alonzo Mourning, both of whom underwent transplants. Every year more than 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with FSGS, which damages the kidneys' filtering system. When she was first diagnosed in December 2009, "All I could think was, Why me?" says Evans. "Now I count my blessings. So many other people with this disease are suffering way more than I am."
Evans says she currently has no pain associated with FSGS, but fatigue is a regular problem. At coach Kenny Brooks's insistence, she skips some practices and does mostly shooting drills in others to conserve energy. She has changed her diet, banishing certain foods. "I can't even touch bananas," she says, since her body already retains high levels of potassium. She drinks 10 to 12 glasses of water a day to help her kidneys filter waste. And every day she takes a fistful of meds, including blood-pressure medication, calcium, fish oils and a selection of kidney-specific pills. "Some days I feel normal, but other days [the disease] takes a toll on me," says Evans, who is averaging 35.6 minutes per game, second in the CAA.
Mourning, who was diagnosed with FSGS in 2000, had a transplant in '03 and won an NBA title with the Heat in '06, recognizes a fellow fierce competitor. "Dawn is operating off of sheer will right now," says Mourning, who, like Evans, serves as an ambassador for the NephCure Foundation, an organization devoted to fighting FSGS and the related nephrotic syndrome. "I know because I've been there."
Evans's prognosis is uncertain. Her kidney function has been stable at around 20% to 25%; a drop to 15% could require a transplant. "They say I'm too healthy for a transplant right now, so we'll see," she says. So her focus is on winning the CAA tournament (March 10--13), which would guarantee the Dukes an NCAA bid. "I think we're capable of making the Sweet 16 if we play to our capabilities," she says. "Beyond that, I'd like to play in the WNBA. If not, I'm taking [my game] overseas. I've always taken things as they come. I see no reason to do anything differently now."
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Photograph by CATHY KUSHNER/ JMU ATHLETICS PHOTOGRAPHY
GAMER ON Evans, who may yet need a transplant, skips some practices because of her disease, but she still averages 35.6 minutes per game.