Flashes’ Evans finds home at Kent State

Junoior forward Chris Evans shoots from the 3-point line during the Flashes game against the College of Charleston. Evans, along with Guyton, lead the team with 16 points each in the Flashes 80-73 lose. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Junoior forward Chris Evans shoots from the 3-point line during the Flashes game against the College of Charleston. Evans, along with Guyton, lead the team with 16 points each in the Flashes 80-73 lose. Photo by Coty Giannelli.

Nick Shook

Kent State has always been where Chris Evans belonged.

It took two years for the Flashes’ junior forward to realize it, though.

A native of Chesapeake, Va., Evans became familiar with Kent State while in high school. Former Flashes’ head coach Geno Ford was one of many coaches that pursued Evans while he attended Petersburg High School. But the 6-foot-7 recruit’s test scores held back his recruitment.

“It was pretty much up and down because I was a late qualifier in high school, so I had a lot of different choices,” Evans said. “If [interested schools] don’t think you’re going to qualify, they kind of move on.”

Evans signed with Coastal Carolina, where he played one season before transferring to Wabash Valley Community College.

“[Coastal Carolina] was just a bad situation as far as basketball opportunities and what I was trying to pursue,” Evans said.

Evans flourished while at Wabash Valley, where basketball was essentially the only activity available.

“It was in the middle of nowhere really,” Evans said. “Walmart was 30 minutes away.”

Evans spent much of his time on the basketball court, playing with teammates late into the night. Players would gather and play variations of the game, including “21” and “H-O-R-S-E.”

“That’s all we could do,” Evans said. “Me and people on the team would just go play in the gym.”

The lack of distraction proved to be beneficial for Evans in the classroom.

“It did help me stay focused academically,” Evans said.

Evans averaged 19.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, was named the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 24 Player of the Year and earned first-team NJCAA Division I All-American honors as the Warriors finished the 2010-11 regular season with a 29-7 record and a regional title. He averaged 21.7 points per game in three games during the NJCAA National Tournament and was named to the NJCAA All-Tournament Team.

Evans was ranked as the 17th-best junior college player in the country by Rivals.com as he began his second round of recruiting. Marshall, Indiana, Minnesota and Southern California were among the schools that recruited Evans after his one season at Wabash Valley, but it was Kent State that landed who Rivals.com ranked as 17th-best junior college player in the country.

Assistant coach Bobby Steinburg had established a close relationship with Evans during his first round of recruitment, and it was Evans that contacted Steinburg after the 2009-10 season. Steinburg recommended Wabash Valley to Evans and remained in touch with him throughout the season.

“He and Coach Steinburg had a really close relationship,” Flashes’ head coach Rob Senderoff said. “I think in hindsight, he wished he had decided to come to Kent from the beginning. I think that was the main reason why he chose to come here the second time around.”

Evans was drawn to Kent State by the opportunity to play an important role in the Flashes’ quest for a Mid-American Conference title and NCAA Tournament berth.

Evans was named one of the “Top JUCOs Moving On” by The Sporting News, and has lived up to the billing. In his first season at Kent State, Evans is averaging 10 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and has been an effective player off of the bench for the Flashes.

“We knew we’d need him to help us right away,” Senderoff said. “When we recruit a junior college kid, it’s very rare that we don’t expect him to have an impact. That’s the reason that they’re coming here. He has had an impact.”

Evans is well-known for his dunking ability, which has produced plenty of highlights and excitement for Kent State fans. Evans’ high-flying alley-oop dunks have punctuated fast breaks for Kent State throughout the 2011-12 season.

“I know if the ball comes out and Mike [Porrini] happens to get the rebound, and I’m running on the other side and he sees me running, he’s going to throw [an alley-oop] no matter where it’s from, whether it is from the half court or the 3-point line,” Evans said. “He’s going to throw it as long as I’m running.”

“When I dunk, I like it, but most of the time it’s the team that really gets excited,” Evans said. “If I can do that, it gets our team going on the offensive and defensive end and just gives us momentum.”

,p>Ty Linder, the play-by-play radio host for Kent State basketball, gave Evans the nickname of “Captain America” because of his ability to jump through the air.

“My mom told me about that,” Evans said. “I like it. I embrace it.”

“I was very excited [when he arrived at Kent State],” Flashes’ senior Justin Greene said. “I never got to play with somebody as athletic as he is. He’s jumped like I’ve never seen somebody on my team, actually being on my team, dunking like that. We expect it every night and we use it as a big spark for us to get momentum and try to pull away or get back into the game.”

But dunking isn’t the only aspect of his game that he hopes fans notice.

“I play hard and I defend,” Evans said. “I’m not just a dunker. I’m a complete, all-around player that’s still developing. I do dunks, and that’s what people like and what I’m known for doing, but that’s not all I do.”

“Obviously, everybody sees the highlight dunks, which is great,” Senderoff said. “But he’s one of our leading offensive rebounders, he leads our team in deflections on the ball. He can guard multiple positions. We sometimes have him guard the other team’s point guard. Just his versatility and athleticism would be the way to describe him.”

“Pretty much every game, he’s the x-factor,” Greene said. “I think when Chris Evans plays well, we usually win.”

Evans began to succeed on the court when he turned his attention to the defensive end of the court.

“At first, I just wanted to play hard,” Evans said. “I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, but me being a good player, I demand a lot out of myself. When I put my focus on the defensive end and rebounding the ball and playing hard, it really helped my offensive game. I just stopped worrying about that so much.”

“As the season has gone on, you’ve seen his growth and him getting better and better,” Senderoff said. “He helps us more and more each game.”

A naturally shy person, Evans was initially quiet when he first arrived at Kent State. Teammate and center Justin Manns helped Evans get acclimated to his new environment by spending time together during preseason workouts. Evans easily fit in with the existing team.

“He was very quiet,” Greene said. “He wasn’t talking, he wasn’t interacting. He was just trying to handle his business and feel everybody out. Now, he’s as comfortable as ever.”

“The guys, they were cool,” Evans said. “They accepted me and really welcomed me.”

“When he first got here, we roughed him up,” Greene said. “We let him know this wasn’t JUCO. He was new to the team, he handled it, we put the pressure on him, but that’s what we do to everybody, including the freshmen. I think all that stuff that we did to him early in the year, breaking him in and getting him used to how physical the college game is, it helped him out because he’s playing well.”

“He was kind of quiet, being a new guy,” Guyton said. “Like everyone that comes in, we just treated him like family right away.”

The family atmosphere within the team is one of the reasons Evans is comfortable at Kent State.

“When we go out, we go out together,” Evans said. “We just always hang out [together].”

“For me I can say [his teammates are] basically all of my friends,” Guyton said. “I’m with them every day, and after practice I hit them up to see what they’re doing and come over and play video games and whatnot.”

The Flashes’ sense of togetherness isn’t something that Evans experienced elsewhere, which he believes is beneficial to the team.

“It definitely helps on the court when everybody is for one another,” Evans said.

Evans and the rest of his teammates’ goal is to win the rest of their regular season games, win the MAC Tournament and earn a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Kent State has three games left before tournament play begins March 7. The Flashes’ next game is at Bowling Green, where they hope to record another conference victory.

“Our kids want to get back on the winning track going into conference tournament play,” Senderoff said. “It’s a team in our division, and it’s a road game. It’s going to be a challenge for sure. Hopefully we’ll come ready to play and compete and find a way to get a road win.”

Game time at Bowling Green is set for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast by SportsTime Ohio.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].