He's gone. Only to where seems uncertain. Barring something stunning, Paul Evans has coached his final game for Navy. Evans knows there are limitations to basketball at the Academy; he wants to see if he has any as a coach.

"If I wanted to stay forever," Evans said after the Midshipmen were beaten by Duke for the NCAA East regional championship, "I think we could win 18-22-23 games a year. I don't know if we could consistently make the final eight as they did this year or the Final Four ever.

"I guess as a perfectionist I'm not ready to settle for that. I think I'd rather leave this year than next. I'd like for another coach to have David Robinson for a year. I don't want people to say I rode David up."

That may happen now; nobody with a mind would believe it. Evans is blessed that Robinson grew to be nearly 7 feet during his watch at Navy; Robinson grew enormously as a player under Evans.

A lot of very good jobs have stayed vacant while Evans directed Navy to 30 victories and another spot in the NCAA tournament.

In a stretch of the '60s and early '70s, it took Navy more than four years to accumulate 30 victories. Joked Evans: "It took me more than two years after he arrived in 1980 ."

For a change, Evans is the one being hotly recruited.

"Gotta get Southern Cal out of the way in the next day or so," he said. "Then South Carolina after that." And maybe Houston, Pitt, Northwestern and some others later on.

"I doubt if he knows just how many are interested in him," said Navy Athletic Director Bo Coppedge. Coppedge does, and shortly will tell Evans each of the more than 12 schools that have asked permission to talk.

Coppedge did not want to clutter his coach's mind during the NCAA ride. Neither does he want to lose Evans.

"I'd like to build a big headstone and let him die here," said Coppedge. "We'll do everything we can do to keep him. But we can't compete with compensation, and history suggests we won't be where we are now very often."

One more year, perhaps. Robinson's basketball hitch lasts that long. The legacy of Evans and Robinson surely will be Midshipmen comfortable in fairly sophisticated basketball.

Evans now wants to test himself. He has been at two schools at two distinct levels in his career: Division III St. Lawrence, and Navy. Under him, the records gradually have shot up, as thermometers do from January to August.

Evans became a coach, in part, "because my high school coaches did a lot for me. Also, I like working with kids.

"Coaching is all I ever want to do. People ask what I'm going to do when I get out of coaching. I say. 'Not gonna leave.' I'll still be coaching at 65. I don't want to be an athletic director, a salesman, or any of the rest of it."

Nobody expected what Evans has delivered. A coach who concocts a solid pound cake, with Army as topping, each year is fine by Navy. What Evans got 'em is fit for a royal wedding.

Now . . . Can he thrive in an atmosphere that all but demands an appearance in the Final Four every few years? Can he recruit as well as he can coach? Can he beat Dean and Bobby for players?

Robinson was something of an act of God, after all, even more fortunate than Terry Holland having Ralph Sampson reared on his recruiting turf. Almost as heaven-sent as Press Maravich siring Pete.

Evans realizes how dangerous the next step could be. What he wants is a near-palace of a gym and the funds to baby-sit gifted players nationwide. He wants a program that can win a national championship without buying it.

Schools that might be especially appealing are South Carolina and Houston. Both have fabulous facilities and extraordinary budgets. Southern Cal might be an overrated job.

The team that beat his today gives Evans hope. Duke doesn't have to cheat to win grandly. It recruits the world, but honestly.

"Some others get it done the right way," Evans said. "Knight. Dean. Lefty does it right at Maryland."

In a corridor outside the dressing room, Evans thought about why he chose Navy and why Navy might yet keep him.

"The tradition," he said. "Army-Navy games. The overachieving kids . . . I was kind of emotional after the game with seniors Vernon Butler and Kylor Whitaker.

"They think I'm a bitch at times, but there's not one of 'em I don't love as much as my own son. It's hard to see them out of it."

When there's time for reflection, the satisfaction of this season will be enormous, somebody mentioned.

"I guess," Evans admitted. "I'm less of an ego guy than others. But it was great to see guys like Derric Turner and Vernon play so well. Vernon Butler is not a great athlete, but for four years he did some phenomenal things. Same with Whitaker.

"The kids this year did about what I expected. I thought we could get to the final 16, and maybe the final eight. They won some big games. No matter what happened today, nobody can take Syracuse last Sunday away. Syracuse was real inspired."

When Evans took the Navy job, one of the first to congratulate him and offer encouragement was the Duke coach, Mike Krzyzewski. Now, as Evans was talking, Krzyzewski walked by and tapped him on the shoulder.

"I rooted for you early," Evans said to his friend. "I can start again now."