Rayquan Evans’ decision to return to Florida State was met with a healthy dose of skepticism after what was an inconsistent 2020-21 season. Leonard Hamilton saw it differently.
The Seminoles’ coach laughed at the suggestion that Evans asked if he could return for a super senior season.
“Well, let’s set the record straight,” Hamilton said, failing to stifle laughter as he began to discuss Evans’ return. “He might have thought that he was asking me to come back. But that wasn’t really the case. We were trying to maneuver the situation where we create an atmosphere where he might have thought he was asking us, but actually we were very happy. Had he not come back, I’m not really sure that he wouldn’t have been recruited. We’re very happy and pleased that he’s with us because he’s such an unselfish spirit. He is such a team guy that he’s kind of accepted the role of a team guy.”
Evans had just eight points in five postseason games last March, including six assists against 10 turnovers — and for the season he had 33 assists and 31 turnovers. He had moments of brilliance with 24 points in a win over NC State as well as three other double-digit scoring games against ACC teams, but he also had eight games in February and March where he didn’t make a shot from the floor.
In a word: Inconsistent. And it wasn’t what the Seminoles needed from a point guard, especially one who is expected to handle the ball, distribute, shoot and defend.
“I felt like because of COVID there was a lot of delay, especially in my game and my growth,” Evans said. “It was a hard adjustment period for everybody, being locked up, having to miss two weeks for false positives and things like that. I felt like I didn’t get much out of my career last year.
“So being able to stay and develop under these coaches and be in this environment has not only helped me grow as a person but as a player.”
Evans has been quite impressive in FSU’s two exhibition games. He has made 6 of 8 shots from 3-point range, 10 of 18 from the floor, plus five assists and two steals (as well as just two turnovers). After earning his bachelor’s degree in Social Science in April, Evans is back pursing a second bachelor’s, in International Affairs, and he’s helping lead the Seminoles on and off the court.
With all of the newcomers, as well as the return of Anthony Polite and Malik Osborne, it’s easy to overlook the impact Evans could have on the Seminoles as they open the season on Wednesday against Penn (9 p.m. on ACC Network).
The extra time in college, and the extra time working with FSU’s coaches, has helped make Evans more comfortable.
“This offseason was very important,” Evans said. “There was a lot of communication involved with what players’ roles were going to be, what’s expected of them, what’s expected of this team. To be able to have that communication all summer, have an official offseason, have those extra practices, those extra scrimmages, those extra reps are very beneficial too. It’s helping me understand my role, how to help the vets and the new guys.”
After two seasons in which he has had mostly a supporting role, Evans knows what is being asked of him. Hamilton sees the confidence and leadership.
“He’s speaking up,” Hamilton said. “He’s calling the huddles together himself. He’s no longer listening to someone else’s leadership. He’s taking that role on. He’s doing a mighty fine job along with Harrison (Prieto) and Justin (Lindner) and Malik (Osborne) and Polite … I’m glad to see Evans exerting himself more on the court, off the court, in practice.
“He’s not a reluctant shooter, he’s not a reluctant take-charge guy. He’s playing defense like he wants to be on the all-defensive team. He given us great leadership. And he’s always been a good shooter, but he’s been a pass-first guy. Now, I think he’s allowing the game to come to him. And he’s stepping into a different role that I’m very happy with.”
Thanks to the fans
FSU is 77-4 in its last 81 home games. Hamilton knows he has had some talented teams, but he also sees an atmosphere that has been created by capacity crowds — which return to the Donald L. Tucker Center following a 25-percent capacity season in 2020-21.
“There’s no doubt that our fan base has contributed a lot to the success of our basketball team,” Hamilton said. “And that’s why I look for every opportunity I can to say, ‘Thank you.’ And tell our fans, especially our students as well as local supporters, how much we appreciate the support that they’ve given us. And obviously the atmosphere in the Tucker Center has been tremendous. We’ve lost four games there in five years and, as young folks can say, I’m not getting this twisted. I do know that we have played fairly well but a lot of it the success that we have enjoyed the last few years has been a direct reflection of the fan support that we’ve gotten and the atmosphere that our fans have helped create in the Tucker Center. And we want them to know how much we appreciate them, but we want them to even take it to another level. We continue asking them to give our opponents a little bit of the medicine that we get when we go on the road as a payback.”
The student section is sold out and season ticket sales have been brisk in anticipation of this season.
FSU has won 24 season openers in the last 26 years, and the Seminoles have won six straight home openers.
The Seminoles have never played Penn but the Quakers’ coach is a familiar face. Steve Donahue is in his sixth season at Penn and was previously at Boston College from 2011-14. (FSU was 3-1 vs. BC at that time.)
Ariya Massoudi’s 1-on-1 interview with Malik Osborne and more as Tuck Talk previews the Seminoles and the 2021-22 season. Listen here.