NIC MEN’S BASKETBALL: Right where he wants to be

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LOREN BENOIT/Press North Idaho College guard RayQuan Evans participates in warm-up drills before playing against Columbia Basin College on Monday at Rolly Williams Court.

COEUR d’ALENE — The first decision when it came to RayQuan Evans’ college career was fairly easy.

Familiar place, along with a setting that was just like home in Billings, Mont.

As for that next one, that will come in time for the North Idaho College sophomore guard.

“I thought the campus was beautiful,” Evans said. “I’d actually been here a few times before because we did the Gonzaga team camps as a kid. We’d come down to the campus and stay in Coeur d’Alene. Having the campus near the water, I kind of fell in love with that right away. I really liked the people and coaches.”

Evans lived in Minnesota before moving to Billings before his freshman year of high school. He graduated from Skyview High.

“It was different for me,” Evans said. “Living there for four years, I learned a lot about that lifestyle. That might be why I’m so used to being here with the mountains and trees because it reminds me of Billings.”

Out of high school, Evans received interest from a handful of Division I programs.

“I had a lot of Big Sky schools looking at me,” Evans said. “And a couple of NAIA schools. Coming here to NIC, the coaches do a really good job of getting guys to the next level, so it seemed like a really good fit for me.”

Montana State is located 144 miles west of Billings, in Bozeman.

“Out of high school, I really thought about going to Montana State,” Evans said. “But at this point of my life, I kind of wanted to see what life was like away from home.”

That move turned out pretty well for all involved, with Evans being named Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year after leading the Cardinals to the conference championship last March.

He averaged 22.1 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game as a freshman.

This year, Evans — a 6-foot-4 guard — is averaging 17.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.

NIC (17-2, 6-0 NWAC) — which played the Community Colleges of Spokane on Wednesday — returns to action against visiting Yakima Valley on Saturday at Rolly Williams Court starting at 4 p.m.

In November, Evans verbally committed to Utah State. In mid-December, Evans decommitted, reopening his recruiting search.

“I really liked the program at Utah State,” Evans said. “I just wanted to see what else was out there. I just wanted to see if another opportunity presented itself, or if it doesn’t. I’m just trying to see what’s out there.”

“We’ve tried to help him and give him some advice to help him through his thinking process,” NIC coach Corey Symons said. “Sometimes, it’s hard for some kids. Ray didn’t play a lot of AAU basketball, so he didn’t see that whole circuit. (NIC assistant coach) George (Swanson) and I have talked him through those decisions. We want him to make the decision he wants to make, but try to give him advice all around. As this process goes on, we’re trying to help him find the right program and right fit. And that goes with the program and coaching staff. George and I have been around long enough where we know pretty much everybody, so we can assist him with that. Ultimately, it’s his decision.”

Symons added at least five Pac-12 schools have shown some interest in Evans.

“We really don’t know where he’ll wind up,” Symons said. “We’ve had so many different conversations with him about it. He was gung-ho on Utah State. It’s a great school, great program and great coaching staff. We know that staff really well, and when he made that decision to put himself back out there, we had to support that as well. I don’t think he has a dream school. He just wants to find a place where he’ll fit in and be successful.”

“I really don’t have a dream school,” Evans said. “Growing up, I wanted to play at Duke someday. I just feel like my dream school is wherever I end up.”

Evans’ teammate, Alphonso Anderson, signed with Utah State in November.

This year, with the addition of Nate Pryor and Phillip Malatare, Evans is no longer the sole ballhandler at guard.

“It’s nicer because it takes a lot of pressure off of me,” he said. “I can not necessarily relax, but when I’m needed, I can go.”

“He’s kind of like the team class clown, so to speak,” Symons said of Evans. “Coach G (Swanson) and I will yell something at the team, and he’ll say something that only the team will hear and make them laugh. He’s always breaking the ice in that way. He’s a great leader, and how he does that is with his sarcasm and that stuff. You really don’t know it until you get to meet him that he has that sarcastic humor.”

Evans is fourth in steals in the NWAC with 44.

“Most of the guys that are talented like Ray is — with that athletic ability and talent — they come in and are kind of in-your-face kind of vocal leaders,” Symons said. “And Ray isn’t like that. He’s a quiet kid and doesn’t like to talk a lot. He talks with his teammates and his family, but outside of that, he’s really an introvert. And he plays that way. He’s not a high-volume, outspoken kid. He just leads by example.”

“His growth in the game has been huge,” Symons said. “With the acquisition of Nate and Phillip, he’s more of a combo guard this year, so he can play the point and the two (shooting guard). He’s playing off the ball a little more, which is great because he’s learning how to play defense a little better. He’s a lot better defender this year than he was last year. Last year, he had the ball in his hands for 40 minutes, and we kind of had to hide him on the defensive end and keep his energy up. Now, he’s locking down the other team’s best players and is our best rebounder. He’s a workhorse and comes into practice and works his tail off. He just keeps getting better each day because he’s continuing to put the time in.”

“I want to lead by example,” Evans said. “Being aggressive, focusing on each play. In this league, I really don’t think the other teams like us. They want to beat us of course, so you’ve got to set a presence and compete each day.”

More importantly, Evans added he’s learned a lot about himself from his coaches.

“I’ve learned to be a better person,” Evans said. “They tell us a lot about trying to be a man in this world. Their goal is to help us move on in basketball, but also teach a lot of real life stuff. You’ve got to focus on what your responsibilities are. I feel like I’ve grown from my freshman to this year because of them.”

Evans plans to study psychology, wherever he winds up.

“I wanted to study sports medicine at first after taking a class in high school,” Evans said. “I took a psychology class when I got here, and just fell in love with that.”

“He’s a great kid,” Symons said. “He’s a great person. He works his tail off every day and is the hardest worker in the weight room, and on the court. He’s just unbelievable to coach. He’s not your typical JUCO kid. He’s doing great academically, and he’s really been a blast to have around for the last two years.”

And Evans wouldn’t mind continuing his career beyond a four-year school, just like NIC guard Braian Angola-Rodas, who went on to play at Florida State and now plays for the Orlando Magic’s G-League team.

“If I got the opportunity to do that, it would be great,” Evans said. “The coaches here are pushing me to work on the things I need to do to be great at the next level, so when I get there, I can put myself in a better situation to potentially do what he’s doing. They do a great job and they’ll me what I need to hear to get better.”

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