Sinclair’s Madison Connally-Banks puts up a shot during a recent game. ERIC DEETER / CONTRIBUTED

Tom Archdeacon: Twin Towers standing tall for Sinclair

The first call went to Roosevelt Chapman.

Immediately after the game, Nina Connally called the Dayton Flyers basketball legend at his North Dakota home to tell him his “stepdaughter,” Madison Connally-Banks, had just had a velvet-like moment of her own.

During his Hall of Fame career at UD — he reigns as the all-time leading scorer of the men’s program — Chapman was known as “Velvet” for the smooth way he made it rough on the opposition.

Wednesday night, Connally-Banks and sidekick Aaryn Evans — the freshmen are known as the Twin Towers of Sinclair Community College women’s basketball — made it rough on visiting Cincinnati State.

The Surge had led the entire second half until Madison scored seven straight points in the final 1:39 to lift the Tartan Pride into the lead and secure a stunning 70-66 victory.

“This is our biggest win of the year,” said coach Victoria Jones, the former UD guard who has guided Sinclair to a 12-2 record.

Connally-Banks scored 13 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Evans had 14 rebounds, seven points, a late-game “monstrous block,” as Jones described it, and down the stretch helped defend Cincinnati State’s fearless point guard, TK Gilbert, who had controlled much of the early game.

The 26 rebounds by Connally-Banks and Evans, mighty numbers in most box scores, barely turned a head at Sinclair. The pair does that every game. In fact, 26 is their average and that makes them the best rebounding tandem in the nation at the junior college Division II level.

Evans is ranked second nationally in offensive rebounds (6.5 per game) and sixth in total boards (14.2) Connally-Banks is fifth with 6.2 offensive rebounds a game and 14th in total rebounds (11.8).

“We’ve got Tim Duncan and David Robinson right here,” a grinning Jones said in reference to the 6-foot-11 and 7-foot-1 San Antonio Spurs pair who were the original Twin Towers of hoops.

Connally-Banks said she stands 6-feet, and that’s what Evans is listed at, too.

At some of the better known stops in women’s basketball that would be anything but towering. NCAA Division I powers Baylor, Maryland and Tennessee each have seven players 6-foot-1 or taller on their rosters.

Yet, it’s doubtful many of those teams have two players who mean more with their presence on the court than Connally-Banks and Evans do for Sinclair.

“If there are two people we don’t want to be sick, it’s those two” Jones said. “They bring so much to us, not just with their rebounding, but with their overall presence.”

Regaining focus

Both players said they were raised by a single mom.

Evans said her mother, Alicia Lang, worked long hours as a nurse and that meant (Aaryn) often had to help care for her younger twin siblings.

“I think I had to grow up faster than most 15- or 16-year-olds did,” she said. “I was in the mom position. Senior year I started to feel I wanted more freedom and when I got it, I didn’t take advantage of it the right way. I got steered the wrong way and didn’t always focus on my grades like I should.”

One passion she did embrace was basketball — a sport in which she first showed promise in the fifth grade.

“My cousins, all of them boys, used to take me along to the park or I shot around on a basketball court they had in front of their house,” she said. “Guys from all over the neighborhood would come over and play and they taught me to be tough.”

That grit helped her play center at Thurgood Marshall High School for three varsity seasons.

Connally-Banks, who would play at Fairmont, was an only child. Her mother, who had played basketball at Vandalia-Butler, said she first dated Chapman when he was at UD and she was a Sinclair student, then later on, as well.

“We were together about seven years when Madison was growing up and we even thought of getting married at one point,” she said. “But even afterward he’s stayed in Madison’s life. He’s her stepdad.

“When she was younger he used to try to help her with basketball, but back then she didn’t really want it. She shied away from it.”

Madison smiled at some of the old memories:

“I can remember going to the grocery store with him and we’d be there for hours because everybody wanted to talk to him.

“In seventh grade Velvet took me over to UD once and one of his friends gave me my first pair of basketball shoes. But when he’d teach people with individual drills, I’d just hang off to the side and play with a ball or something.”

Chapman recalled those moments as well Wednesday night:

“I tried to get her interested, but she was into dance and other things. Then all of a sudden one day up here I hear she’s into basketball now. I’m really proud of her.”

Nina said he stays in regular contact with Madison:

“He gives her tips before games and after games. He’s helped her out emotionally, with the mental approach to the game.

“Whenever she has a problem now, she doesn’t want to talk to Mom, she talks to Roosevelt.”

Timing was right

Neither Evans nor Connally-Banks planned to come to Sinclair, they said.

Evans, in fact, was recruited by Cincinnati State, but, according to her mom, decided “it wasn’t a good fit.”

Connally-Banks said she drew some interest from NCAA Division III programs and also thought of trying to walk on at a bigger program.

The pair ended up playing in an open gym session at Sinclair and they hit it off. Soon after, Connally-Banks said she talked to Jones:

“She pulled me aside and said, ‘You know if you go to some of those places or walk on, you have to pay to go there? I was, ‘Yeah, but I can work it out.’

“She said, ‘You think that’s right? Your mom is working all the time and you’re gonna make her take that on?’ We’re giving you free money here. You can play here and if you do well, you can go someplace on scholarship.’ “

As Jones explained it: “My thing is, you can help us now and we can help you later.”

Jones — who previously was an assistant at Murray State and the head coach at NCAA Division III Eureka College — said she believes both Evans and Connally-Banks can one day be scholarship players at four-year schools.

“We knew both of them were raw and had to mature some when we got them, but we believed they had enough ability that we could shape them,” Jones said. “They’re already making an impact and they haven’t reached their full potential yet at all.”

Like Evans, Connally-Banks said Sinclair has been a good choice for her: “We just needed somebody to see the light in us and keep us going.”

While they have different personalities — Madison is more talkative and fiery; Aaryn is powerful, but laid back, a trait that’s caused Jones to needle her as being too much of a “teddy bear” at times — they have risen to the moment time and again.

Connally-Banks had 20 rebounds against Wright-Patterson Air Force Base recently and 17 against Harrisburg, Pa. Evans had 24 against Wayne County and 22 against the Cedarville JV.

But no game was bigger than Wednesday night.

Sinclair came back three times from major deficits, the last one 10 points midway through the third quarter. Along with the Twin Towers, Sinclair guards Tajah Parker and Reanna Dudley teamed up for 28 points.

“It was the heart in all of us,” Evans said. “One thing coach does is recruit girls with a lot of heart who won’t quit.”

Jones was pleased afterward: “We haven’t been in this position before. I saw some great things tonight.

“People really stepped up.”

Looking back at her daughter’s reluctance to do just that when Roosevelt first offered hoops help, Nina said she understands:

“She was scared she wasn’t going to live up to his expectations. She was afraid they were going to look at her as Roosevelt’s daughter and she wasn’t going to measure up.”

Now, though, she’s standing tall.

She’s a Twin Tower.

So is Aaryn

And because of them Wednesday night, Sinclair won.

And Roosevelt got the first call.