This article was originally published by Four Points Press on December 21, 2021.
RayQuan Evans knows that his pursuit of a third college degree is not just about personal accomplishment.
He also realizes when he pulls on the No. 0 jersey for the Florida State University men’s basketball team that he’s doing it for more than himself.
Evans is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior guard for the Seminoles, who were scheduled to be in Broward County on Dec. 18 to face Central Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic at FLA Live Arena in Sunrise, however the game has been cancelled due to Covid protocols. The other game in the Classic — Florida versus South Florida — is still scheduled to take place at 1 p.m.
Evans, a member of the Crow Tribe in Montana, has already produced some impressive numbers early in the season, such as 14 points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals in the season opener against Penn. He had nine points, six rebounds, one steal and three blocked shots against Syracuse.
It is rare that someone from the Crow Tribe plays Division I college basketball, especially in an upper echelon conference such as the Atlantic Coast Conference. Evans realizes what he does on the court as well as in the classroom stretches far beyond the Tallahassee campus.
Evans has embraced being a role model for his family, his reservation 2,000 miles away and Indian Country. The degrees — graphic design, social science and, in progress, international affairs — and the stats — seven points per game and team leader in blocks per game — show that Evans is setting an admirable example for young Natives. Team accolades help, too, such as the academic achievement award and unsung hero award he earned after his first season with FSU.
When he is on the reservation, he talks about the value of education to his younger cousins who play sports and other kids.
“It’s very important to be able to come to the reservation and set an example for younger kids that school is very important, and if all else fails with sports, you have your degrees to rely on. It’s very important to me. I’m very thankful to have the opportunity to have multiple degrees. It means a lot to me and my family,” Evans said in a phone interview with the Tribune.
Honoring big brother
“He was able to watch my games when he was in the hospital; now he has a front row seat to all my games,” Evans said. “I honor him. My purpose is greater now when I am playing and with everything I do. I try to represent my brother when I am playing.”
As a high school athlete, LaFranier excelled in basketball, cross country, football and track in Montana. He competed in the World Indigenous Games in Brazil. He has a six-year-old son, Bryson.
“My brother was really a great guy. It’s devastating that he passed at such a young age,” Evans said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better bigger brother, somebody I really looked up to as a man.”
Development as a player
As a kid, Evans moved around quite often. He lived on the Crow reservation and a few other places around the country, but one constant was basketball. His dad made sure he not only played, but that he played against tough — and often older — competition in order to improve.
“My experience of playing with older kids and playing with men really kind of built the player that I am a lot quicker at a younger age,” Evans said.
Evans was an All-State player at Skyview High School in Billings. In the summer before his senior year, he played in the Native American Basketball Invitational. It is the largest all-Native tournament for high school players that annually attracts more than 100 teams to Phoenix, Arizona, from throughout Indian Country.
“It was a great experience, probably one of the best experiences of my life. To see kids come from different reservations to play in this one tournament, it was amazing,” Evans said.
The tournament not only focuses on games — and there’s more than 400 of them culminating with championships in the Phoenix Suns arena — but also stresses education. Native speakers from a variety of career-backgrounds meet with the players. College admission representatives are present.
Getting noticed on the basketball court by colleges can be challenging for Native players, partly due to the rural locations of many reservations. The talent is there, but often the eyes of recruiters are not.
“There’s a lot of great talent on the reservation, but it’s just really hard for the kids to get seen. That’s something I share with [kids], don’t be afraid to leave home and get out there. Home is always going to be there, but to get yourself noticed, you’re going to have to leave home,” Evans said.
Evans has participated in a Zoom program that allows kids to ask him questions; he hopes to do more.
He is also the first member of a Native American tribe to play for the FSU men’s team, according to the athletics department.
“I take more pride in it for my family and for my reservation back home,” he said. “It’s just amazing I [get] to play for the Florida State Seminoles.”
In recent years, FSU has worn special uniforms once or twice a season that promote Native culture. They will wear them in the game against UCF.
“We have N7 jerseys and things like that, little representations of Native American culture. It’s really awesome to be able to represent that, but also bring my culture to this program, kind of educate my teammates and my coaches what Native American culture is like,” he said.
Evans has had little contact with anyone from the Seminole Tribe, but he said he wants to learn more about the tribe and meet tribal members. If the opportunity ever arises to work with Seminole kids at a clinic, for example, he’d be there, ready to share his story for the next generation.
“I would love to,” he said. “Anything that is involved in helping the youth on reservations, I’m 100% invested.”
This story was originally published on Dec. 17, 2021 by The Seminole Tribune, the official newspaper of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.