(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Heading into the final stretch of his first season on the court for Arizona State men’s basketball starting guard Shannon Evans II focuses on what the final games mean for the broader audience.
ASU hosts rival Arizona on Saturday for the closing game of the regular season, with the conference tournament slated to start on March 8 in Las Vegas.
“A lot of people are going to be watching,” Evans said at practice last week. “It’s a big-time game for only myself and the school, but for this community.”
The first season as a Sun Devil for Evans, who transferred to ASU from Buffalo and sat out the 2015-16 season, has been a personal accomplishment. He’s averaging 15.4 points and 4.4 assists per game this season, 12th and sixth in the Pac-12. A former two-star recruit floating around those rankings in a power five conference is not a common sight.
While individually productive, Evans focuses more on the team success, or lack thereof when the case is. The Sun Devils are 14-16 this season with a 7-10 record in-conference, but still hold a respectable seventh seed in the Pac-12. They’ll need a win over their rival, ranked 7th overall, on Saturday to secure a better winning percentage than last season.
“It’s frustrating at times, the season in general,” Evans said. “We’re not doing what we hoped to do, but at the same time it’s a learning experience and I’m fortunate to have another year.”
Evans, before last week’s game against UCLA and USC, also said he felt like the season wasn’t over, noting that “anything could happen.”
Something certainly did happen for ASU that weekend when the Trojans came to town. Trailing by 10 points with about three minutes left, ASU turned the tables in dramatic fashion, securing a victory on a pair of Tra Holder free throws.
Holder and Evans formed a competitive connection during Evans’ year of ineligibility. He approached practices with a high intensity, and pushed not only Holder but the entire team to improve.
However, the bond that really connects Evans to Arizona State is his coach. Bobby Hurley coached Evans in his first two seasons at Buffalo and gave the young guard his chance. Evans averaged 8.5 points per game as a freshman. The next year, he averaged 15.4, leading Buffalo to a spot in the NCAA tournament.
ASU came calling for Hurley and formalized the hire on April 9, 2015. About two weeks later, Evans committed to join his coach.
“He’s a winner,” Evans said. “He’ll do anything to win and I want to be around people like that. That’s the main reason why [I transferred]. I wanted to play for someone like that.”
Hurley had even higher praise for the 6-foot-1 guard at the beginning of the season.
“Shannon Evans is the equivalent of a McDonald’s All-American based on where his game is at and what he’s going to do this year,” Hurley said in October. “Shannon is as gifted as any player in our conference coming into this year on the perimeter. When you see that guy work every day you see him make plays, whether it’s hitting the deep threes, getting in the lane, finding teammates, playing the defensive end at a high level, guarding the ball. The guy doesn’t get tired.”
The not getting tired part has been invaluable for the Sun Devils, for whom neither depth nor size are in abundant supply. Evans has a slim lead on the team in minutes per game at 35.4. Beyond that, ASU’s small lineup has forced Evans, as well as the other guards, to defend bigger forwards and play in the post.
At last week’s practice, Hurley held to his good words of Evans, calling him “everything I could’ve hoped for” and praising his willingness to take a heavy workload.
“He’s adjusted like our entire team has,” Hurley said. “He’s been up to the challenge. To scrap in there, to help us rebound. A lot of things other teams may not ask their guards to do.”
Evans, who attended Hargrave Military Academy in Chatman, Virginia, said his high school experience was akin to this season. They played four guards and one big, so he had the task of defending guys with five or six inches on him.
The challenge of playing a short rotation and guarding bigger players has come to define the season for ASU, both in its successes and failures. Evans described both himself and Hurley with one repeated word: fighter. A fight seems to be the best way to analogize ASU’s season.
With a rivalry game and the conference tournament coming up, the fight is not quite over for Evans and his team.