John F. Silver
Last spring when UConn’s postseason fate was sealed and there was no postseason it was a mass exodus out of Storrs.
Alex Oriaki left to Missouri, Roscoe Smith went to UNLV, Michael Bradley transferred to somewhere in Tennessee while Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb took their act to the NBA.
Why wouldn’t they? There was more playing time, riches and postseason opportunities elsewhere.
He did the opposite. Evans saw little playing time, a postseason ban and a team trending downward and he wanted in.
That’s all you need to know about what the Salem, Conn. native Evans brings to the Huskies.
Evans is in his first and only year at UConn. He transferred as an immediately eligible graduate student and is taking a graduate degree in educational psychology after earning a degree from Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Basketball wasn’t his main focus but he has quickly become the stabilizing force off the bench. The senior guard is experienced, knowledgeable and brings a competency that the Huskies sorely need.
Evans did just that on Tuesday scoring 11 points on 5 of 5 shooting in UConn’s 67-49 win over Vermont.
Evans is the glue to the No. 23 ranked Huskies off the bench. He came to UConn after a stellar three years at Holy Cross where he started 88 of 96 career games and was the seventh all-time in starts in Crusaders history scoring over 1,200 points in his college career. He came to UConn not expecting a lick of playing time but has earned precious minutes as the catalyst off the bench. He plays wherever head coach Kevin Ollie needs him and after six points in 28 minutes in Friday’s upset of then No. 14 Michigan State, scored 11 points grabbed three rebounds and added two steals to complement the effort over Vermont.
Ollie has raved about Evans’ energy and intensity level and has come to rely on that off the bench early in the season.
“He’s just a stabilizer, a guy that I can go to and I can look to to be consistent,” Ollie said. “I know what I’m going to get from R.J. Whether I play him 28 minutes against Michigan State or 17 today, I’m going to get intensity, I’m going to get him to play hard, I’m going to get him to play unselfishly.”
Evans may have been a three year starter at Holy Cross, but he has no qualms coming off the bench and filling a role.
“Whenever I go in I’m going to play my hardest,” Evans said. “Whatever I can do to help the team, I’m going to do it. I’m a team player, it doesn’t matter if I go in and play two minutes or 30 minutes; I’, going to play hard.”
Evans is built like a fullback at 6-3 210-pounds with broad shoulders. His combination of size and quickness make him a sneaky player on offense and that’s a trait he wants to pass off to the younger players. Evans’ game is all about flow and there is little wasted effort or force in his game. Evans knows what he can do and when he can do it. That’s his most important attribute.
“Oh yeah. One thing I have learned is you have to take what the defense gives you in the flow of the game instead of forcing it,” Evans said. “I feel like we did well today and no one was forcing shots. That ‘s what I learned over the years. I was a little erratic as a freshman. Now I pick my spots and I feel like I can bring that to this team.”
Picking his spots and playing within the flow of the game is the hardest part of learning to play college basketball. Evans has become sort of a tutor to some young Huskies. First among them is the talented Omar Calhoun, a flashy scoring guard out of New York City. Calhoun has a stellar opening to his career with a pair of 20 points games in exhibition play only to fall flat in Germany in his first career game with only two points.
Evans pulled Calhoun aside and talked to him about playing college basketball and the struggles. It worked against Vermont on Tuesday with Calhoun scoring 12 points and hitting the first two 3-point baskets of his career. More importantly, Calhoun had three rebounds and four steals and played solid defense in 32 minutes.
That kind of role is how Evans sees himself. He has started many games in his career and has a lot of minutes under his belt. That sort of experience is going to be invaluable to the Huskies this year.
“He’s a grown man,” Ollie said. “He’s been through this before and he’s on the big stage now and I think he’s relishing the moment. It’s just his time to play.”
Evans is relishing his time playing for his home state team. He’s also actively taking up the role of elder statesmen. It might be Evans first year at UConn, but he’s as experienced a player in college basketball as there is in the nation.
“I will be the old man,” Evans said. “I bring a lot of experience. Guys being younger guys and if the are erratic I can bring them back.”