Archdeacon: A big heart to match a big hoops presence

When she was just 2 years old, Eve Fiala stood 3-feet-2 said her grandmother, Sabina Fiala.

“Back then, people said by the time a two-year-olds became adults, they could double their height. But the pediatrician told us, no, that was just an old wives’ tale,” Sabina said with a laugh.

Eve is now 18 and about to start her freshman year at the University of Dayton as a highly-recruited member of the women’s basketball team.

“She’d grow 3 ½ or more inches every year and once she hit 6-foot-3 in high school, we could tell him: ‘You were right. It was an old wives’ tale. She’s going to be even taller than 6-foot-4!”

Although UD now lists Eve as 6-4 on its website — and she shrugged when asked her about height and guessed she might be 6-4 or maybe 6-5 — coach Tamika Williams-Jeter said she measured 6-foot-6 at her physical.

Back home in Indiana, Pa., a town about 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, the local paper, the Indiana Gazette, listed her as 6-6 when it honored her for the 1,014 points, 785 rebounds and 168 blocked she amassed in her three-year prep career at Indiana Area Senior High.

“She is the sixth generation of 6-foot-6ers in our family,” said Edward Fiala, her grandfather. “My great grandfather was 6-6 and so was my grandfather and my dad. I’m 6-6, too, and my son, Nathan — Eve’s uncle — is 6-foot-7.”

Regardless of the tape-measure tally, she’ll be one of the tallest — maybe the tallest — woman ever to wear a Flyers basketball jersey.

Four former players —Theresa Yingling, Bonnie Quelhorst, Saicha Grant-Allen and Tenin Magassa — were listed at 6-5, tops on the all-time Flyers’ roster. Seven more, including another incoming freshman, Riley Rismiller of Coldwater, are listed as 6-foot-4.

But as impressive as all that sounds, there is something even bigger about Eve Fiala.

“I think I have a big heart,” she said quietly and a bit uncomfortably when pushed to introspection.

Williams-Jeter, who has known Eve since she was in eighth grade, brought up the idea of her empathy and told a story that reflected that.

Eve, who admitted she had a difficult home life at times and lived with various people, including a teammate’s family and finally in a home she rented on her own, “has a thing for homeless people,” Williams-Jeter said.

She told how Eve went with her AAU team to a tournament in Indianapolis and the night before a game she disappeared until 4 a.m.

“She didn’t do anything illegal, nothing like that, but she had everybody worried,” Williams-Jeter said. “She just left the hotel and gave her food to homeless people and just walked around with them. She just wants to help someone in need.

“She’s really a great kid.”

Richard Jeter — Tamika’s husband — is the director of the AAU program, Ohio United, where Eve played and after the Indianapolis incident, he held her out of the next tournament, which was in Los Angeles.

“She was going to L.A. and her dream was to go to Skid Row,” Williams-Jeter said.

Eve’s grandfather said her kindness shows with animals, too: “She loves animals. She gravitates to any stray cat, turtle or pigeon.”

“And birds, a chipmunk, whatever,” Sabina added. “She had three rabbits. She went to horse camp and loves horses. You name it, she loves them.”

Well, there has been one exception.

Williams-Jeter said Eve was recruited by every Big Ten school, except maybe Wisconsin, and a lot of the ACC and SEC programs, too.

Eve said she visited several schools, including Ohio State, West Virginia, Pitt, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan.

She said she didn’t care for a couple of the coaches who recruited her and she didn’t like some of the incoming players at one school,

“When I went to West Virginia, they opened up every single door for me,” she said. “They had someone at each door and they were very friendly, but it was just toooo much for me.”

And then there was Michigan.

“They had these FAT squirrels,” she said with a brief smile and a big shake of the head. “They fed them and they’d come right up to you. They were obese!

“I was trying to eat my ice cream cone and they came right up and tried to steal it.

“These weren’t regular gray squirrels. They were red — the size of groundhogs.

“I said, ‘What is going on up here?!’”

‘Liked the energy’

She ended up coming to UD because she said she “liked the energy” around the program and because of her relationship with WIlliams-Jeter.

Williams-Jeter said she was an assistant at Penn State when she first noticed Eve, then just an eighth grader playing AAU, while recruiting another player:

“I could see her potential. She was this young, long, shot-blocking, rebounding, athletic thing. She could run like a deer, was light on her feet, didn’t clog up the paint and she could play defense.

“And I thought, ‘Man, wait ‘til she gets older!’

“When I got to Ohio State my first year back there, Kevin (head coach Kevin McGuff ) offered her (a scholarship.)”

That was Eve’s first college invite and she never forgot Williams-Jeter after that.

Other schools started to recruit her as well, but then sophomore year she said everything fell apart:

“I was moving around a lot and I transferred to a bigger high school in Pittsburgh, but I wasn’t allowed to play for them. It was a good school and has a lot of different things academically and my grades were better, but I wanted to come home. It was the COVID year, too, and I was smacked by that.”

She didn’t have a phone for a good while and was living with friends or wherever she could find a place. Schools that were recruiting her had trouble getting ahold of her and eventually some of them backed away from her.

Eve trusted Williams-Jeter and her husband and stayed in contact through Snapchat.

Even so, Eve admits there were times when life got bumpy. Things with her mom (Kathryn Fiala) were in flux and she said doesn’t know who her dad is.

Although Williams-Jeter said there was some stability when Eve lived with her grandparents — “she had a 3.4 GPA”— that didn’t work out for a while either.

Eventually Eve said she rented a house, took her final year of schooling on line, played basketball — “basketball is calming for me because I can be in a space with a good group of people and get a job done,” she said — and she worked full time at a Subway in Homer City, a suburb of Indiana, Pa.

She held the job for two years, right up to when she came to UD earlier this month.

“I worked all week, every day for $9 an hour,” she said. “I had to. I was paying my own bills, had to wash my own clothes, all that.”

She rattled off the ingredients on a couple of the favorite sandwiches she’d prepare and also told how she made the rolled ice cream they served.

“When I got here to UD, they told me I wouldn’t have to work,” she said. “I kind of wish I could. I really liked seeing the people and asking how their day was as I was making their food.”

‘Just the beginning’

Williams-Jeter said one of the new assistants on her staff — Darryl Hudson — came up with an apt comparison:

“He calls her Rudy Gobert (the 7-foot-1 Frenchman who plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves.) She runs the floor well and finishes around the rim. She’s still raw on offense, but she’s a monster on defense.

“She can pass and has a lot of overall athletic ability. She played multiple sports in high school. And she’s just going to keep getting better,.”

Eve’s grandfather, Edward Fiala, thinks this could be just the tip of the iceberg for her:

“She did what she had to in high school, but if she trains and can focus, she could be unstoppable. What you see now is all natural. She’s underdeveloped.

“I just want her to finish school and get an education. And I told her if she plays er cards right, she could be set for life.

“Whether she’s good enough for the WNBA, I don’t know. But it’s a possibility.”

When Eve was asked about her dreams this season, she never mentioned herself, just her team:

“I guess last year wasn’t too good from what I heard. I hope our team figures out how to work together and we turn it around and win a lot and finish well for the seniors. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.”

She could play a big part in that especially if she approaches UD hoops the way she used to tackle making those 12-inch Spicy Italian and BMT subs.

“Oh yeah, I made some nice-lookin’ sandwiches,” she said with a sense of pride, but delivered with laughter. “I’d give some of them extra meat. I was the only one who made tips there. Everyone loved me.”

After a 7-21 season last year, everyone around the Flyers program — from the returning players and coaches to the administration and the fans — is hungry.

As long as that doesn’t draw those obese squirrels across the state line, she should be fine.

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