Bobby Hurley's first victory for UB Basketball came long before he started prowling the Alumni Arena sideline.
Whether it was because Shannon Evans averaged 19 points, five assists, and six rebounds per game prior to his prep year at Hargrave Military Academy, because while at Hargrave he had once hit 12 triples on his way to a 55 point game, or because he was UB's lone incoming recruit, fans were predictably concerned when Reggie Witherspoon's departure led to Evans' same-day Twitter announcement that he was rethinking his Buffalo decision.
The tone changed drastically when Hurley was announced the Bulls' next head coach. Within minutes Evans was publicly tweeting at Hurley, and hours later had reestablished his commitment. Hurley had easily convinced a player who Bulls fans believed could contribute as a freshman, even among a senior-laden team.
That freshman season saw Evans step right in and establish himself as a valuable member of the MAC East champions. As you'd expect for a freshman, he had his good and bad games, but was only held scoreless twice: in the season opener at Texas A&M and the finale against Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament.*
*To be fair, no one showed up for that game. Except Glenn Bryant and Karrington Ward.
Despite his original recruitment by Witherspoon, Evans flourished in Hurley's up-tempo, free-flowing system, and got opportunities under the former All-American that he frankly would not have seen as a freshman playing for the former. In 2010-11, Javon McCrea was stellar from the get-go but played just 21 minutes a game. Future MAC POTY Mitchell Watt played only 12 minutes per in his freshman year. Simply put, Reggie did not play freshmen, no matter how talented.
Under Hurley, though, Evans got a chance, and was further able to take advantage of Auraum Nuiriankh's rapid slide into the doghouse. The freshman played fewer than 20 minutes just thrice on the season, and never fewer than 18.
On his way to 8.5 points, 3.3 assists, and 2.5 rebounds a game Evans was at worst a volume shooter who managed a handful of points no matter what and at best a dangerous attacker who could score in any number of ways. UB has not seen a slasher who so willingly takes the ball to the hoop since Rodney Pierce: Evans shot 79% and earned a third of his points from the line.
In other stats, Evans' freshman numbers remind me of Jarod Oldham's early years. #11 was always good for a handful of assists, few turnovers, and a couple of 'hustle' rebounds and a block while handling the spotlight with aplomb, just like the now-departed point guard, whose career I wrote about in last year's countdown.
The difference, however, is that Evans has a much stronger nose for the basket. Like I said, he was always good for a couple buckets. But he was frequently good for many more, hitting double digits nine times - I believe the most by a UB freshman since McCrea. His season high of 20 points came in a crushing overtime loss to Manhattan, but his finest game was a 17-point performance in a late-January matchup with Western Michigan that included a season-high three three pointers to go with seven assists and three boards.
After the season ended Evans was named to the All-MAC Freshman team, which is pretty swell if you ask me. Some Bulls fans thought he deserved more consideration for Freshman of the Year and would have been a shoe-in on a different, younger team that could offer more playing time.
Evans performance last year shows little signs of a sophomore slump, a positive sign for a Buffalo team that plays two 2014 Final Four teams this year. He was consistent throughout the season and did not flag near the end of his first year at this level of competition.
In the statbook, Bulls fans will look for him to improve upon his 35% overall and 29% three-point percentage and to push his scoring average into the double digits, but will be even more focused on how the sophomore adapts to a post-McCrea world. Along with Will Regan, this is Evans' team now.