It's a UConn master class for R.J. Evans

R.J. Evans, competing earlier in his career for Holy Cross against UMass, will play for the UConn men's basketball team this season while he pursues his master's degree in educational psychology.
R.J. Evans, competing earlier in his career for Holy Cross against UMass, will play for the UConn men's basketball team this season while he pursues his master's degree in educational psychology. Nancy Palmieri/AP Photo

Storrs - R.J Evans has spent the last few months learning about his new basketball family and hot spots around the UConn campus.

The former will take longer than the latter.

He's discovered that Shabazz Napier has a quirky personality, assistant coach Kevin Ollie runs a grueling workout and that he shares something in common with Niels Giffey, Enosch Wolf and Leon Tolksdorf, three players from Germany.

As far as the latter, well, let's just say it didn't take long for him to learn the hot spots in the (not so) thriving metropolis of Storrs.

Evans will be eager to further his education about his fellow Huskies when school starts on Monday.

No one, with perhaps the exception of Tyler Olander, who's from nearby Mansfield, was on campus more this summer than Evans, a Norwich Free Academy graduate from Salem.

Since arriving May 29, Evans attended two summer school sessions and worked out on a regular basis.

"It's a good adjustment period," Evans said. "They're getting to know me and I'm getting to know them. It's good to get started in the summer so when school starts we get the ball rolling right away."

Evans, a stocky, strong 6-foot-3, 210-pound guard, is in a unique position. He's the new and old guy.

With a year of eligibility left after graduating from Holy Cross in May, Evans is at a school that he considers a comfortable fit. He's able to pursue a master's degree in educational psychology, play major Division I basketball and do it all within 35 minutes of home, which is particularly appealing to the self-described momma's boy.

And UConn adds a much-needed veteran - the 22-year-old Evans has 96 games of college basketball experience - to a young team that lacked leadership last season.

"They just want me to set a good example both on and off the court," Evans said. "I feel like I've done that pretty well this summer. I'm doing really well in school right now. I'm here at all the workouts and they see me working hard. That's the example that I've got to set for the younger guys, that work ethic.

" I think they've responded to me. They know I'm an older guy. We're still getting to know each other. They've asked me a lot of questions about what I used to do at my old school. They're teaching me things, too, because I'm new here.

"I feel like we're creating a good bond which will help us out during the season."

Despite being a newcomer, Evans says he won't be afraid to speak up. He was a team leader during his Holy Cross days. And his father, Ray, taught him at a young age to say what's on his mind.

Evans knows he'll have to earn his teammates' respect first before playing a vocal role.

Over the summer, he worked on conditioning and proper diet. He wants to avoid his habit of losing 10-15 pounds during the season.

"My goal this summer was to maintain my weight so when we start practicing I don't lose any of my strength because that's one of my biggest assets," Evans said. "I'm starting a diet with the trainer to keep maintaining my weight during the season. I want to feel strong all season. It's my last season and I want to go out with a bang."

Evans is eager to start his UConn career. He's excited about opening the season against Michigan State at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Nov. 9. It will be his first trip out of the country and a chance to meet some relatives. His grandmother, Ottile Mauser Evans who lives in New York, is from Germany.

His German teammates joke that Evans is that fourth German on the Huskies.

"This past weekend, I was in New York and I put my grandma on the phone with Enosch and they were talking German to each other," Evans said. "That was pretty cool. She told him to look out for me.

"That's why the game in Germany is going to be cool for me because I'm going to get to meet family that I've never met before because they live an hour away from there."

Before the opener, Evans still has a lot to learn about UConn basketball. He's yet to experience his first UConn practice or the tough love of coach Jim Calhoun.

Whatever lies ahead, Evans believes he's ready.

"I can't wait," Evans said. "I still wake up every day and can't believe I'm here sometimes. It still shocks me. I've been on a long journey in college and been through a lot of stuff. Now I feel like I'm being rewarded. I feel like I have to make the best of the opportunity."

g.keefe@theday.com

Salem native R.J. Evans, center, makes the move to the UConn men's basketball team this season for one final year of eligibility after graduating from Holy Cross. Evans, who has been on the UConn campus all summer long, said this week he's getting used to things in Storrs and looking to get to know his new teammates.
Salem native R.J. Evans, center, makes the move to the UConn men's basketball team this season for one final year of eligibility after graduating from Holy Cross. Evans, who has been on the UConn campus all summer long, said this week he's getting used to things in Storrs and looking to get to know his new teammates. Fred Beckham/AP Photo
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