Evans shouldered the load

Evans shouldered the load

Injury defined a stellar career for Hoosier great

By Lynn Houser, Herald-Times Sports Writer

March 6, 2007

Former Indiana star Brian Evans dives to the floor for a loose ball while wearing a shoulder brace during a game against Ohio in 1994 at Assembly Hall. H-T file photo
From the Mar. 6, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

When Brian Evans is happened upon by an IU basketball fan these days, he isn’t asked about his Big Ten MVP year of 1995-96, or playing on a top-ranked team in 1992-93, or playing with the likes of Calbert Cheaney, Alan Henderson and Damon Bailey.

No, when a fan approaches Evans, he usually asks, “How’s the shoulder?”

For all he accomplished in his four-year career from 1992-1996, Evans will always be remembered as the guy who played an entire Big Ten season with a dislocated shoulder. Visions of him taking a spill, grimacing in pain, then popping the shoulder back into place and soldiering on are still enough to make Hoosiers wince.

“It’s always about my shoulder,” Evans said by phone last week. “I’ve signed pictures of me with my shoulder brace.”

Images of Evans playing in pain have carved a special place for him in Hoosier lore.

“It helped define my career,” he said.

It happened in December, 1993, Evans’ sophomore year.

“I remember diving after a loose ball,” he recalled. “When I hit the deck, I felt it pop. The next thing I knew, Dr. (Brad) Bomba was standing over me trying to manipulate it back into place. That was unpleasant. I’ve got a picture of me going to the lockerroom where it looks like I have no shoulder. The arm is hanging straight down. It’s a spooky picture.”

But it’s hard to keep a good man down, and Evans was a man in every sense of the word. Even though the shoulder was supported by a fitted brace, it would still pop out on occasion.

He recalls one time when it happened in front of his boyhood hero, Larry Bird. Growing up in Terre Haute, Evans tracked Bird’s career at Indiana State. To his surprise, Bird paid him a visit in the halftime lockerroom while Tim Garl and Bomba were working on the shoulder.

“They had just shot me up with a pain-killer and put it back into place when Bird comes in,” Evans said. “He sat down and said something nice, but I was loopy, out of it. I was peppering him with questions about the Celtics and his career. He probably regretted going in there. I wore him out.”

With his deadly left-handed jump shot, Evans wore out a lot of defenders in his four years, capped off by a Bird-like senior year in which he led the Big Ten in scoring at 21.2, the first Bob Knight player to claim a scoring title. He also averaged seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, earning him the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Trophy as the Big Ten MVP. He led the Hoosiers in all those categories except for assists.

“Being a Larry Bird fan, I wanted to lead the team in assists, too, but Neil Reed nudged me out at the end of the year,” Evans said.

Evans came to IU in the fall of 1991 and was redshirted by Knight.

“I was just 17, so that was all right with me,” Evans said. “I could have been a high school senior. Besides, it would have been hard getting minutes with Calbert Cheaney, Alan Henderson and Eric Anderson ahead of me.”

Evans also was OK with being a back-up his first year in uniform as the Hoosiers won the Preseason NIT, went 17-1 in the Big Ten and climbed to the top of the polls before losing to Kansas in the regional finals. Evans saw more action late in the year when Henderson went down with a knee injury.

“I still believe we were the best team in the country, but the injury to Alan did us in,” Evans said. “Kansas was so much bigger than us.”

The highlight for Evans that year came at Penn State. It was his jumper in the second overtime that allowed the Hoosiers to get out of tiny Rec Hall with a victory.

“I get asked about that often,” he said. “Playing at Rec Hall was like no other venue. It looked like the court is half-size because the students are right on it. Coach put me in during the second half and I shot an air ball, so he took me out immediately. But as people kept fouling out, he was going through his bench. Even Pat Knight checked in before me.

“At the end of the first overtime, Greg Graham fouled out, so I went in. The play wasn’t designed for me, but Coach always was in favor of us coming down and just running our offense. At the eight-second mark I took a couple of dribbles and shot a 12-footer from the baseline with a guy’s hand in my face.

“I had just hit this big shot and thought I would go into the lockerroom and be mobbed by my teammates. But Coach was livid, thought we played like crap. He went to the press conference and said he was rooting for Penn State because they deserved to win.”

Former Hoosier Brian Evans is a partner in a new pizza place that will soon open in Dunkirk Square on Kirkwood Avenue. David Snodgress | Herald-Times
From the Mar. 6, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

Evans enjoyed three more solid seasons. His 1,701 points are good for 10th place on IU’s all-time list and his 730 rebounds are 11th. He also is fourth in 3-pointers with 186 and 14th in assists at 332.

Today, Evans is involved in two projects. He is a vice president for Mesirow Financial out of Illinois and is co-owner of a new Bloomington pizza place, Uncle D’s.

“It’s pizza by the slice,” Evans said. “It’s located across the street from Nick’s and will be open ’til 4 a.m. We figure the students coming out of the bars will want some late-night pizza.”

Don’t look for a 6-foot-8 vendor out front, though. Evans is just an investor. He isn’t about to risk throwing out that shoulder while tossing a pie crust.

“The shoulder is fine, but when I see (Miami’s) Dwayne Wade in that situation now, crying on the sideline, it’s tough. Mine got so loose that if I moved funny in night time, it would slide out of place. But I got through it. Now I guess I can think of myself as a tough guy.”

BRIAN EVANS

Age: 33

Occupation: Senior Vice President, Mesirow Financial; co-owner Uncle D’s New York Pizza

Family: wife Erin, daughter Emerson (3), daughter Lauren (2)

IU CAREER (1993-96)

• Ranks 10th in points (1,701); 11th in rebounds (730); 14th in assists (332); 10th in field goals (1,262); fourth in 3-pointers (186)

• 1996 Silver Basketball Award (Big Ten MVP)

• 1996 Big Ten scoring champ (21.2 ppg)

• 1996 All-American (third team)

PRO CAREER

• Drafted first round (27th) by Orlando Magic

• Three years in NBA (Orlando, New Jersey, Minnesota)

• Six years international (Italy, Japan)