It didn’t take much to make Brian Evans a Hoosier

It may have been the easiest recruitment of Bob Knight’s career.

Getting Brian Evans to Bloomington didn’t take much.

No, the hard part was initially convincing Knight to consider the versatile Terre Haute South forward as a Hoosier. For its 1991 signing class, Indiana prioritized several other forwards over Evans, but when those players began committing elsewhere, Knight relented.

Evans gained exposure during the summer leading into his senior year, when he played on an AAU team headlined by future IU teammate Alan Henderson. Ron Felling, one of Knight’s former IU assistants, was the first on IU’s staff to take interest in the growing 6-foot-8 prospect. Evansville, Indiana State, Western Illinois, Ball State and Butler — before it was Butler — were all eager to recruit Evans. So was Felling. He just needed his boss to take a look.

Eventually, that happened. As the signing period drew closer, and the Hoosiers saw their options dwindle, Felling convinced Knight to scout Evans. So Knight drove to Terre Haute for an open gym, watched a ragtag South team scrimmage without several players still practicing with the football program and made his decision.

“Honestly, he watched me play for a little bit, met with me for about five minutes, then invited me and my father to come over to the football game that weekend,” Evans said. “Without showing me campus, or introducing me to the team or the academic counseling staff, he offered me an opportunity to come there. Coach likes to tell the story that he spent half a tank of gas on me to drive to Terre Haute. That’s pretty accurate. They knew I was too big of a fan. He just knew that if I got the scholarship offer, I’d take it. That’s what happened.”

That half-tank of gas turned out to be well worth it.

Evans blossomed during his five years at Indiana, capping his career as Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior in 1996. For his contributions during a standout career, Evans will be one of six Hoosiers inducted into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday evening.

Joining Evans in this year’s class are Monica Armendarez (softball), Rachelle Bostic (women’s basketball), Sam Komar (wrestling), Ann Lawver (volleyball, softball) and Glenn Scolnik (football).

“I’m just really glad to see him get this honor,” said Henderson, a fellow IU hall-of-famer. “He had a fantastic career, of course, culminating with that Big Ten Player of the Year award. He’s a guy that worked hard. He came in known to be a good player, but I don’t know if anyone expected him to be Big Ten Player of the Year, except maybe him. But that’s quite an accomplishment. It’s a testament to all the hard work he put in.”

During Evans’ first year on campus, working hard in practice was all he could do.

Still 17 years old when he stepped onto campus in the fall of 1991, Evans redshirted that season. Although he didn’t play in the games, he kept himself busy in practice with the steady assignment of guarding budding All-American Calbert Cheaney.

“You can look at it two ways,” Evans said. “I got to guard Calbert every day, or you could say I had to guard Calbert every day. I don’t know which one it is, but it was invaluable.”

So Evans spent every practice of that redshirt year chasing Cheaney off thousands of screens, learning how to become a college basketball player by guarding one of the best.

“To see it through that lens was a big deal,” Evans said. “I was a guy that wanted to be a shooter, wanted to be a scorer. I was dreaming that someday those screens would be set for me.”

They would be.

Evans went on to score 1,701 career points and pull down 750 rebounds. During his Big Ten MVP season, Evans also became the first player in the Knight era to lead the conference in scoring at 21.2 points per game.

“Brian was always a really good player,” Henderson said. “I don’t know that he always got the attention or the accolades as some other guys, but I thought he was always a player that could play inside or outside. He was a pretty cerebral player, and I think he just kept improving on all areas of his game. He became a really good rebounder to go along with his offensive skills, too.”

And while his recruitment was short, Evans’ indoctrination to Knight’s operation didn’t take long. IU’s first team meeting in the fall of 1991 remains vivid in Evans’ mind.

“Alan and I were roommates and we’re told to be at Assembly Hall at 3 o’clock,” Evans said. “It was our first team meeting with coach back in town. Ten ’till 3, Alan and I walk in the locker room. Now, again, I’d never really been in the locker room, other than one time going to a game. We walk in and everyone’s there. I mean, it’s Calbert’s junior year. Calbert, Damon (Bailey), Eric Anderson — they’re all sitting there really still, like with their hands on their knees and looking straight ahead.

“I’ll never forget. My locker was next to Pat Knight. He whispered: ‘What are you doing?!’ I was like, ‘What?’ He goes: ‘You’re only 10 minutes before coach is coming in!’ I was like, ‘Well, when am I supposed to get here?’ He goes: ‘Way earlier than that!’ I was just like, holy cow, what did I get myself into?”

But Evans maximized his potential under Knight, and came to appreciate the legendary coach’s upfront style.

“He was real honest,” Evans said, “which has always worked well for me. Sometimes, he’s up close in your face and being real honest with you with a loud volume. But for me, I always knew where I stood. I always believed he wanted me to be a good player.”

Not only did Evans develop into a very good player, he cemented his status as a fan favorite while gritting his teeth and playing through a recurring shoulder injury.

To this day, Evans still hears the question from IU fans. How’s your shoulder?

“It blows me away and shocks my wife still that we could be out and people might just walk by my table and say, ‘How’s your shoulder feeling?’ maybe like I just hurt it,” Evans said. “Earlier this year, somebody came by while I was eating dinner with my wife and kids and said, ‘How’s your shoulder?’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s great. Thanks.’ Then it dawned on me that the surgery I had was 25 years ago that month. It’s a testament to how great of fans we have in the state of Indiana.”

Evans still keeps up with the current Hoosiers and watches games when he can. He’s been an IU basketball fan since his childhood and is still thankful that, all those years ago, Bob Knight used up half a tank of gas to recruit him in Terre Haute and change the direction of his life.

“I grew up a huge IU fan,” Evans said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. Huge fan. To get remembered and even get asked, ‘Hey, what do you think of Romeo (Langford)?’ That doesn’t get old to me.”

8 comments

  1. Nicely done, Lord Baltimore. You did a real nice job with that one.

    I must be getting old because I can barely remember much of Brian’s game…I seem to remember a certain poise and precision in his movement without the ball. He was well-schooled in basketball before entering the Knight classroom on McCracken. It’s probably why Knight wanted him…And I recall a good stroke as well….sort of Kyle Hornsby(ish) in form.

  2. Many Hoosier greats did not make you jump out of your seats. They would play what looked like a solid game then you would realize they scored 28 points and had 12 rebounds.

    Then they did it again.

    1. Very true…Steve Downing was in that category. But to steal from Mike Miller, there was always a “cerebral” sort of purposefulness inherent in some of the old greats(college and pro). Today’s college baller has replaced much of the savvy mixed into unpretentious artfulness once part of a more narrowly defined individual game with more power, versatility and quickness.
      But there is still something mystically beautiful when watching the old b-ball masters…..Dr. J comes to mind. There was a quite swagger you just don’t see today. More contained in its precision rather than only ‘wow factor’ and in-your-face athleticism.
      I still enjoy watching the old greats: Maravich, Archibald, West, Havliceck, Bird, Magic, Wilt, The Big O…..and, of course, The Doctor. Hell, give me a Darryl Dawkins backboard shattering dunk. “From the planet Lovetron….” It was so much more fun when everyone didn’t walk on water. They had a humble sort of likeability and wonderful nicknames.

  3. Calbert, while amazing, could have one of those nights where you just didn’t realize how much he had scored. I remember one of the many epic battles he had with Jimmy Jackson. IU had just lost another close one to OSU and as we were leaving, they started reading the stats. When they go to Calbert, they said he had scored like 30 points, 7 or 8 assists and 5 or 6 rebounds. We were all looking at each other like, no way did he have that many points. It was the quietest 30 points I have ever seen in a game.

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