JMU Athletics
James Madison's Dawn Evans

Amy Hughes, NCAA.com

What do James Madison senior point guard Dawn Evans and seven-time NBA all-star Alonzo Mourning have in common?

If it were up to Evans, the comparisons would stick to the basketball court, where Evans currently leads NCAA Division I in scoring with 25.6 points per game (through games of Jan. 2). But the two have more in common than basketball.

Both suffer from FSGS (Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis) and are NephCure (www.nephcure.org) Ambassadors. FSGS forced Mourning’s retirement from the NBA on Nov. 25, 2003, but after receiving a kidney donated by his cousin, he was able to return to basketball in 2004.

Evans was diagnosed with FSGS in December 2009. One day after setting the John Paul Jones Arena scoring record with 38 points in a 75-73 win at nationally ranked Virginia, Evans returned to Charlottesville, Va., for a kidney biopsy that would provide her FSGS diagnosis.

Just a bit more than a year after her diagnosis, James Madison hosted “NephCure Night” as the Dukes played host to Virginia. Evans was honored in a pre-game ceremony for becoming JMU’s career scoring leader and she had another spectacular performance against the Cavaliers, downing a school-record 42 points on the 42nd birthday of her head coach, Kenny Brooks.

When asked about what makes his star point guard so special, Brooks has a quick reply: “How much time do you have?

“I don’t know if I can tell you exactly what she’s meant to this team, this program, this community,” continued Brooks. “It’s meant everything to me. She inspires me. She has made me a much better coach, and we can talk for days about her accomplishments and what she has done on the floor but she has helped our program out in so many ways off the floor just being a great ambassador. She’s a wonderful young lady who epitomizes the phrase student-athlete. I’m very happy and very blessed to have coached her.”

A healthy kidney filters and eliminates the body’s waste, filtering out liquid waste while leaving protein in the blood stream. FSGS causes inefficient filtering of wastes from the blood. The symptom of the disease that impacts Evans the most is the impact on her fitness level.

“It takes a toll on my body fatigue-wise,” explains Evans. “I’m more tired than usual. It affects me physically on the court as far as what I’m able to do with conditioning. Other than that, I just have to take medicine to keep me up.”

Brooks believes that Evans is performing around 70-75 percent from a fatigue standpoint.

“Athletes put their bodies through so much,” said Evans. “For me to have been diagnosed midway through my career … I was playing just like a regular college student. Doing everything a regular Division I player does and then to be diagnosed, it took a toll on me but I’m able to continue and keep going without losing a step.”

That is actually a bit of an understatement. Evans is one of three active NCAA Division I players, along with UConn’s Maya Moore and Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender, with more than 2,000 career points. Evans is on the watch list for all three National Player of the Year awards (Wade, Naismith and Wooden), is a Lowe’s Senior CLASS award nominee and was selected the CAA’s Co-Preseason Player of the Year.

None of those awards matter to Evans.

“She’s not into the accolades,” said Brooks. “I’ll tell her that she got Player of the Week and she’ll just shrug her shoulder, or I’ll tell her she broke another record and she just looks at it like ‘OK, whatever.’ Last year when she didn’t win the Player of the Year award she was a little disappointed but not much. Our goal was to go out and win the Most Valuable Player award at the tournament, which meant you would be the CAA Champion. That’s the only award that means anything to her. Being in a conference where there are such high-powered scorers and she happens to be one of them, she just really wants to focus on winning championships.”

In the Dukes’ win over Virginia on Monday, Dec. 20, Evans posted her school record point total on NephCure night. Her school record 42 points came on the 42nd birthday of coach Brooks. She scored 13 points in the last four minutes as JMU rallied from a 13-point deficit. It was her 21st game with 30 or more points, adding to her school record. The previous record of five career 30-point games was held by Young.

“That was an important night for me,” said Evans, “because I’m able to put my face on this disease. To bring awareness to a disease that affects thousands every year and more so children. It’s a disease that affects children more than anybody. That night was extremely important for JMU to even consider doing that means tons to me. We had a huge game. That game was what my main focus was that night. I don’t think there was much of a connection but it was just a huge night for me in both areas.”

“It was a special night,” said Brooks. “She scored 42 points on my 42nd birthday and it was NephCure night. We needed all 42 of her points. When we play the BCS schools she doesn’t shy away from it; she really rises to the occasion. I think it was a matter of that night she was feeling really good and we needed all of her points. She stepped up and knocked them down for us.”

Keeping Evans rested and ready to go on gamedays is a complicated task that Brooks takes seriously.

“We played (Sunday), we had individual instruction (Monday),” said Brooks. “Dawn didn’t do any. We watched film then the kids lifted. [Dawn] won’t lift. Tomorrow, she and I will come in for individual workouts and I might let her get a couple reps with the team just so that everyone is still used to playing with her. Wednesday we’ll probably limit her again to just shooting, and have her play on Thursday. Friday we’ll limit her reps in practice, she probably won’t do anything, then a couple reps in practice on Saturday before we play on Sunday. That’s probably the way it’s going to be from here on out. Maintain her rhythm and conditioning. Other than that, we’re going to really sit her so she can really rest.”

Evans has adjusted to her careful schedule and is thriving with the support of her family and teammates. Her father, who is retired, is able to attend the majority of JMU’s games despite living a nine-hour drive away in Clarksville, Tenn.

“[Dealing with FSGS] hasn’t been that difficult because I see my family pretty often,” said Evans. “They’ve been able to be hands-on with everything that’s been going on.”

As Evans deals with her illness and continues to play top-level basketball, she continually inspires those around her.

“I have three daughters at very impressionable ages, 12, 10 and 5,” said Brooks. “She’ll come to our house and play Wii with them or really do a lot of little things to let young girls in this community know that you can be pretty, you can dress up, you can do everything but you can still be tough on the basketball floor and you can go out and do anything you want to accomplish.

“I think she’s a remarkable young lady,” continued Brooks. “Everyone knows what she does on the floor and how spectacular she is on the floor, but few understand what she’s going through and what a great teammate she is. A lot of people, including myself, I don’t think they could really go through what she’s going through and still compete at such a high level. She goes out and not only is she competing and competing well, she is bringing awareness to a disease and giving lots of people hope that you can go out and still compete even if you’re thrown a curve ball so to speak. I’m just very proud of her. She’s a very special young lady and she has definitely touched me as a coach but she’s also touched our program and our community.”

The JMU community is returning the favor. Over $600 was raised at last month’s NephCure Night, and the “Sign on for Dawn” campaign (www.signonfordawn.org) is now over halfway to its $10,000 goal.

“What excites me about what Dawn has done is that she is not sitting idly by and letting this disease control her life,” said Mourning. “She is standing up to adversity as part of NephCure and performing in front of thousands on a regular basis on the basketball court. Knowing what FSGS did to me, I am inspired by the passion and power which Dawn demonstrates.”

Evans plans to continue playing basketball beyond the close of her collegiate career, and continuing as a NephCure Ambassador is also a priority. The scoring records will continue to accumulate, but that doesn’t matter to Evans.

“The only time I [think about records] is when somebody asks me and brings it up for me to consider it,” said Evans. “[Records and individual honors] aren’t goals of mine. My goal is strictly for us to win basketball games here and for this team to play to its potential. My whole objective is for us to keep winning basketball games, for us to get as far as possible in these tournaments. I put my heart and my mind to it and the support that I get pushes me even further.”