FSU basketball’s RayQuan Evans raised on Montana reserve
That night, wearing that jersey, no one but RayQuan Evans was destined to stand on the free throw line for Florida State with the game on the line.
The 6-foot-4 leading point guard and the first Native American tribesman to play for the Seminoles men’s team calmly dropped both free throws with less than a second remaining to secure the one-point victory over Miami.
And it wasn’t just another moment to celebrate and forget.
Evans, the son of Lavern OldElk and Israel Evans and a member of the Crow tribe in Montana, stood at that foul line wearing the Seminoles’ turquoise N7 jersey, which honors Native American culture.
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“To have the moment as a team and for me to understand what these shirts represent, what a massive moment,” Evans said. “I’m so grateful that I was able to be put in that moment because there’s a bunch of little kids at home looking up to me. I feel like it was a real surreal moment.”
The man who was given the Indian name “Young Man With Blessed Days” naturally won 65-64, handing Miami its first ACC loss. This game played just over a week ago sets up Saturday’s 2 p.m. rematch between the ACC’s top two teams when the Seminoles (12-5, 5-2 ACC) travel to Miami (14 -4, 6-1).
And Evans wasn’t done making clutch shots. Four nights later in Syracuse, his two free throws with three seconds left sealed the victory. Tuesday was a double dose of Ice Water Evans against Duke. He sent the game into overtime with a glass-high layup on two defenders just before the buzzer, then hit the game-winning free throws with 12.3 seconds left in OT for the 79-78 win.
“We feel safe when he goes to the line,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “There’s no doubt he’s very mature, he’s given us tremendous leadership. Whenever the game is on the line, he always seems to make the right decisions.”
Evans’ 7.1 points and 2.6 assists per game don’t come close to describing his value to the Seminoles. He had five assists and one turnover in Syracuse and Duke wins.
“He has to be on the court in a lot of ways,” ESPN basketball analyst Seth Greenberg said. “He’s almost their compass.”
And Evans will tell you he’s had a lot of help this season.
Evans has been playing with a heavy heart since his brother, Tye Lafranier, died on November 21. Tye, 27, suffered a seizure about six months before his death and was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.
“Every game now and the way I walk my life is for my brother,” Evans said. “Every game I’ve played harder because he fought to the end with his cancer. Not a day went by that he didn’t fight. If he can fight at a moment like this, I can fight on the pitch, I can fight in life… I represent my brother through this.”
Evans proud to be a Seminole
RayQuan Ethan Evans is in the perfect place. Working on her third college degree, Evans understands as much as anyone the respect and reverence given to Native Americans by a school whose moniker has drawn criticism and calls for change.
Instead, Evans couldn’t be more proud of the university he represents.
“There have been times when organizations have used Native American and other cultures names and mascots and paid no attention or credit to those tribes,” Evans said. “But here it’s great. Mostly because it doesn’t go unnoticed and (calls attention to the Seminole tribe) and I use it to get recognition for my tribe back home and tribes all over Montana.
“People need to take more time to understand that there is no disrespect here.”
Evans spent part of her childhood on the Crow Indian Reservation, located about an hour east of Billings. He learned basketball from his father, who played for the University of Montana. He said basketball was an important part of his big family.
Evans spent two years at North Idaho College before being signed by Hamilton in 2019. He knew about Florida State and its history with the Seminole tribe, but had never considered playing in Tallahassee.
Until that surprise phone call.
“When Coach Hamilton called, I was shocked and amazed because the culture behind Florida State, what that culture stands for, that program, the building blocks that that program has put in place,” said he declared. “I thought this was my chance. I can play at the highest level of college basketball, but I can also share my culture and give kids a reason to look up to me and give kids a reason to chase their dreams. .
“I feel like I was brought here for something bigger and something more (than basketball).”
Playing a game after his brother’s death
That’s why Evans felt he was well enough to play a game the day after he learned his brother’s battle with leukemia was over. RayQuan had eight points and six assists in 16 minutes of FSU’s 81-58 victory over Missouri in the Jacksonville Classic championship game on Nov. 22.
While Evan broke down in tears after the game, Hamilton was emotional as he described what he saw.
“There are real Seminoles,” Hamilton said. “But then there’s the Seminole Ray Evans kind of thing. For him to step in and want to do that… not many people can do that and play as well as he played tonight.”
Hamilton, who is in his 52nd year in coaching, called it “one of the best performances I have ever seen in my coaching career”.
What happened eight days later surpassed all clutch moments on the pitch. Evans was at his home in Montana that evening to attend Tye’s funeral. FSU was playing Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Before the game, a Purdue student sent an envelope to Hamilton and said it was for RayQuan.
When he was finally able to open it, RayQuan found a black card with the Purdue logo and a note inside the student body saying how sorry they were for his loss and that the entire college basketball community” including your new fans in West Lafayette” were behind him. The Boilermakers basketball program also tweeted a link to a GoFundMe page that was set up to cover funeral expenses.
Evans became emotional as he read the card.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s the competition, the teams may not like each other, the crowd may not like you and for them to take the time before a big game and acknowledge what I went through even though I wasn’t there, it really meant a lot to me.
“It shows people’s character. It shows that no matter how competitive the basketball world is, I feel like we’re all family.”
Florida State in Miami
2 p.m., ESPN2