SOMERS — Last season was obviously a difficult one for the UW-Parkside men’s basketball team.
Ineligible for postseason play due to sanctions placed on the entire Parkside athletic program by its then-conference, the Great Lakes Valley Conference, due to compliance violations, the Rangers knew before they played one game that their string of five straight NCAA Division II Tournament appearances would end.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for last year’s seniors, no doubt, along with the coaching staff.
Others on the team, though, viewed it as an opportunity.
Maybe nobody more so than Ramar Evans.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound point guard from Loyola Academy in Chicago — who might be pound-for-pound the strongest player on the team — saw a lot of time running the point as a true freshman. Minutes, much less the latitude to make mistakes, for true freshmen point guards are generally short.
But with the program balancing winning games and developing players for this season’s move to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, Evans got opportunities he may not have received in a normal season.
He played in all 28 of the Rangers’ games, starting 23. He averaged 8.1 points and 28.5 minutes and made plenty of mistakes, but he learned a ton.
During practice Friday morning at the DeSimone Gymnasium, Evans — now a sophomore — had a perfect metaphor for what he went through last season.
“It was kind of like I was thrown into the fire, but not really into a burning fire,” he said. “It was kind of like I could make a couple mistakes here and there and just learn from there.”
Which is why Evans didn’t view the season as a waste, even though the Rangers had no shot at the postseason.
“I just took that as a learning year and just stayed positive,” he said. “If everybody was like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to the playoffs, this is worthless, there’s no point in playing,’ everyone’s just moping around, then we really wouldn’t have gotten anything out of it.
“So even though it was a kind of down year, I still had fun, and I learned a lot. I gained a lot of valuable experience that I carried over to this year, so it was a positive for me.”
A key cog
Now, Evans is a big reason the Rangers (16-11) are back in the postseason and have advanced to today’s GLIAC Tournament semifinals against Grand Valley State (17-12) at 4:30 p.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich.
After an 0-2 holiday trip to Fort Smith, Ark., back in December, Parkside coach Luke Reigel decided he needed to solidify his rotation. One of those decisions involved leaving Evans as the team’s starting point guard.
“It’s pretty tough to win at any level if your point guards aren’t playing well,” Reigel said. “We weren’t asking him to be an All-Conference performer. We just wanted him to solidify that position. Number one, it’s been on the defensive end. We’ve been rock-solid defensively. I think he took three or four charges (in Tuesday’s GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal win over Lake Superior State).
“And then just getting us into our stuff, making enough plays that they have to respect you. It’s made a huge difference, because that’s one less thing we have to worry about.”
Evans is averaging 6.2 points per game and said his main focus is getting the ball in scoring position for the Rangers’ top five scorers, redshirt senior forward Chip Flanigan, redshirt freshman guard Brandon Trimble, redshirt freshman center Joey St. Pierre, senior guard Adam Bonk and redshirt freshman wing Brandon Hau.
“Just getting other people open,” Evans said of his job. “Just keeping guys like Chip, Adam, Joey and Hau, those guys, just keeping them satisfied. ... So really just trying to get people open, that’s been the thing.”
Not just a passer
But Evans has provided some scoring punch of his own lately, and he’s becoming more confident in knowing when to look to score versus look to pass.
He matched Bonk with a team-high 14 points against Lake Superior State, and he’s been superb from the free-throw line, shooting 81.8 percent (54-of-66). He’s not known as a great 3-point shooter, but recently Reigel pointed out that Evans is improving in that department.
He’s at 33.3 percent (12-of-36) from beyond the arc.
“I know what’s a good shot for me, and that’s a wide-open 3 on a kick-out or something,” Evans said. “Most teams sag back on me now, so if I’m open, I’ll shoot it. ... It just comes with reps and practice, really. Before, if I’m driving, I’m looking to score every time. So now I’m just kind of adjusting more and more that if I’m driving, I’m looking more to pass it.
“But if I’m open, I’ve got to take it.”
And when defenders back off him?
“I love being dared to shoot,” Evans said. “Because that’s a wide-open 3. And then I hit it, and it’s like, ‘Oh, he can shoot.’ So then they step out a little bit more, and then I can pump fake, go to the rim. I take it as kind of disrespectful, and I try to take it as a challenge.
“I like being dared to shoot.”
He also likes taking charges, something he said came from his high school coach, who he said was “nuts for charges.” Evans said he doesn’t think twice about sliding his body into the path of an oncoming player and taking the hit.
“That’s just like my instinct,” he said.
And Reigel’s instinct to keep Evans as his point guard appears to have been a good one.