Anthony Evans is all about the process. Always has been.
He was all about the process as the head coach at Norfolk St., where he led his Spartans to back-to-back 20-win seasons and their first NCAA appearance in 2012.
“It’s not what you do. It’s how you do it. It’s about the way that you come to practice and how hard you compete,” Evans said. “But that doesn’t just happen on the floor. It applies in the classroom as well. All those things together will help this program.”
That’s the message Evans, 43, has been sending to his players since he arrived at FIU in April when he was introduced as the program’s eighth head coach, and the message he will continue sending as he prepares for his first season on the Panthers’ bench.
After FIU completed its first winning season in 13 years and came within one win of earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995, Evans is tasked with keeping FIU on an upward trajectory.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Evans said of his choosing to lead the Panthers . “The university’s size and everything it has to offer – being in Miami, what they did last year, building momentum and having some success – I thought coming in that we can continue building that.”
To do that, Evans is seeking to create positive energy, a winning culture and consistency, all of which are necessary to build a contender. When he arrived, he inspired many players on the roster to stay with him and build those attributes as a foundation for the program.
“When you come into a new situation, they don’t know you. Some may want to leave and some may want to stay,” Evans said. “That was the first order of business: to build a relationship with the players, let them know what my vision was for the program and that I wanted them to be a part of it.”
He left a positive impression on redshirt senior guard Ray Taylor, who came to FIU after transferring from Florida Atlantic. Evans sat down with the point guard and asked about his goals for the season and his aspirations upon graduation among other topics.
Under Evans, Taylor has transformed the way he approaches practices, his role as a leader on the team, and his mindset as he sets his sights on a professional basketball career once he graduates.
Unlike before, when Taylor lacked urgency and would perhaps put in maximum effort only for certain periods of practice sessions, now he’s going full speed as he realizes that every game and every practice is a chance to improve his game.
“He’s a player’s coach and he has really helped me mature. I’m really excited that I stayed,” Taylor said. “No matter what I’m doing, I’m giving it my all. You got to go hard the whole three hours of practice, even if it hurts.”
Once the roster became settled, the next step was to bring the team together, building chemistry off the court that would hopefully result in unity on it.
To do that, the team booked a trip to Spain for a 10-day excursion in August that featured several exhibition games, three-hour bus rides from city to city and tours of the country’s historical and cultural landmarks – all without the distractions of modern technology.
For players and coaches, the trip was a pivotal turning point in their preseason training that gave everybody a chance to connect and gel both on the court and off of it.
“We weren’t able to use our phones. We had to stay together and talk,” Evans said.
Senior forward Tymell Murphy – FIU’s leading scorer from last season – the trip was an invaluable experience.
“It allowed us to come together and be more open with each other,” Murphy said. “It also allowed us to grow as a team and get a feel for everybody’s game.”
Between touring the Royal Palace in Madrid, taking in scenic views of the beaches in Valencia and enjoying Spanish cuisine in Barcelona, there was plenty of bonding off the court as well.
“This trip was important for us,” Evans said. “It was an opportunity for them to learn who I was and for me to do the same with them. I think they understand where I am and what I expect.”
Now back in the U.S. and just days away from the season opener in early November, Evans’ process will be put to the test when his team hits the floor. As with any process, patience is required as the team’s chemistry and timing continue to grow with time and experience.
But Evans is confident this year can be a special one, with the desired results coming sooner rather than later. ♦