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The sixth-year coach has rebuilt the basketball program at Norfolk State, which visits Virginia in the first round of the NIT.
Associated Press | File 2012
Norfolk State head coach Anthony Evans watches from the sidelines against the North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C.
Associated Press | File 2012
Norfolk State coach Anthony Evans signals his team against Missouri at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
Monday, March 18, 2013
Before every practice, before every team meal, before every game, the ritual is the same.
Norfolk State’s basketball players join hands, close their eyes and say the “Our Father.”
Educated in Catholic schools, raised in a devoutly Protestant home, coach Anthony Evans offers no apologies for his Christianity. He takes his players to church and counsels them to show Christian charity, especially to the poor.
“I know some people don’t want to talk about religion,” he said. “But you have to put God first. That’s the most important thing.”
Minutes after the team’s pre-practice prayer, the quiet, soft spoken and shy Evans transforms into disciplinarian. If his players aren’t hustling, he begins screaming four-letter words that would make his mother blush.
A player who violates team rules by missing class, losing his temper or slacking off in practice, is sent to run the stands at Echols Hall while his teammates leisurely shoot jump shots.
“Coach Evans pushes us hard,” said junior forward Malcolm Hawkins. “But he does it because he cares about us, because he wants us to be successful, because the lessons we learn will help us in life.”
As a result, Evans is now a hot coaching commodity.
In his six seasons as head coach, Evans has rebuilt Norfolk State’s tattered program. The Spartans won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title last season, lost four starters and then this year became the first MEAC team in 19 years to go unbeaten in conference play.
Evans has rebuilt Norfolk State, which begins play in the NIT tonight at Virginia, without a big-time budget and with overlooked players. Most of his players transferred from other schools or had few Division I scholarship offers.
He’s developed a reputation for developing players. Kyle O’Quinn, the MVP of the team that upset Missouri in last season’s NCAA Tournament, had just one scholarship offer out of New York City.
He took it. Junior Pendarvis Williams, the MEAC Player of the Year this season, had interest from other schools, but only one offer when he signed with the Spartans.
UVa coach Tony Bennett knows Evans and the Spartans well. Two years ago, the Cavaliers rebounded a missed foul shot and scored with 4.8 seconds left to escape with a 50-49 win over the Spartans.
“I really respect what he’s done over the years,” Bennett said at a press conference Sunday. “When you go 16-0 in your conference, that’s impressive.”
NSU athletic director Marty Miller elevated Evans from an assistant to head coach six years ago. He said he got better resumes from other candidates, but said he had a hunch.
“There was something about Anthony and the way he handled the players,” he said. “Something told me that this young man has a future as a head coach, that he had the qualities we were looking for.”
Evans credits his qualities — the good ones, at least — to his mother, Deborah Evans, a single parent who raised her only son in the rough Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn.
She was a data processor who sent her son to Bishop Loughlin Catholic High, where, from the third floor, he could see where his mother worked at the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
“The Flatbush area has been redeveloped since I was a kid,” Evans said. “There was a family atmosphere in the neighborhood. People knew you and looked after you.
“But Brooklyn is tough, very tough.
“Watching my mother, how hard she worked, gave me motivation to succeed.”
Evans was a better football player than he was on the hardcourt, but accepted a basketball scholarship from St. Thomas Aquinas College, just north of New York City, where he was a shooting guard who played hard, but wasn’t an all-star.
He graduated in 1994 with a degree in marketing and planned to go work for an advertising firm. However, Aquinas coach Dennis O’Donnell suggested a career in coaching.
“I started thinking, am I really going to be happy sitting in an office behind a computer?” he said.
His first job was as a volunteer coach at Orange County Community College, just north of New York City
After living on a limited budget working there, he went to Division II New Paltz College, where he met Robert Jones, then a player and now Norfolk State’s associate head coach.
With his coaching stipend all of $2,500, he continued to hold several other jobs to make ends meet.
“I really wanted to coach, because I thought I would be good at it,” Evans said. “I cared about the kids, and I cared about the game of basketball, so I was willing to sacrifice.”
It paid off in 2000, when he became head coach at Ulster Community College in Kingston, N.Y. His first and only team there went 23-8, and that earned him a job at Dehli Tech, a junior college in Dehli, N.Y.
Evans had won 85 of 101 games as a junior college head coach when he got a call from Norfolk State coach Dwight Freeman in the summer of 2003. I’m looking for an assistant coach who can recruit New York City, Freeman said.
Evans, eager to head south, was one of two finalists. He got the job by default — the other finalist had a family and the salary was just $25,000.
So he packed everything he owned into his car, headed to Norfolk and has been here ever since. He spent four years as an assistant, and then replaced Freeman as head coach in 2007.
Hit initial three-year rebuilding plan morphed into five years. It did, Evans said, largely because NCAA academic rules discourage coaches from running players off.
“You can’t just get rid of guys any more,” he said. “You’ve got to try to mold them into what you want.”
In his first game, the Spartans upset Richmond, and in that first season, Norfolk State went 16-15 — its first winning record in nine years. It was a sign of things to come.
Last spring, after the Spartans were feted in the national media following their upset of Missouri, Evans heard from half a dozen schools interested in hiring him. He said he was a finalist for the job at Florida International University.
Two months ago, Evans hired Coaches Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based firm, to represent him.
“There’s going to be interest in Anthony,” said Coaches Inc’s John Colan. “If he’s been able to have that much success at Nortolk State, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it anywhere.”
Evans said he has made a home in Norfolk. His wife, Kisha, grew up in this area, and the couple have an 8-month-old son.
“We’re very happy here,” Evans said.
After last season’s success, Miller redid Evans’ contract, giving him a $50,000 raise to $175,000 a year and an extension through 2016-17.
Yet, Miller knows he may hear from other schools once the season ends.
“I would hate to see him leave,” he said. “We will do everything we can to keep him.”
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