Evans eyes his return for UConn men

UConn's R.J. Evans, left, hopes to return from an injury in time for Tuesday's game at Madison Square Garden.
UConn's R.J. Evans, left, hopes to return from an injury in time for Tuesday's game at Madison Square Garden. Fred Beckham/AP Photo

When UConn's R.J. Evans was sidelined with an injury just over a week ago, he circled a return date on his mental calendar.

His target: Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Considering Evans was expected to be out at least two weeks, he appeared to be overly optimistic.

Evans is still working hard to try to achieve his goal of playing Tuesday against No. 18 North Carolina State in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"When I got hurt I told coach (Kevin) Ollie that I was trying to get back by that game," Evans said Friday. "But I'm not going to rush it. If I don't feel like I'm not close to 100 percent ? I'm not going to put myself out there."

If not Tuesday, Evans says he'll return "for sure" in Friday's game against Harvard in Storrs.

He suffered a sprain of the sternoclavicular joint near his right collar bone during a box-out drill in practice on Nov. 22. At the time, he feared that he broke his collarbone, as he did on his left side playing football his freshman year at Norwich Free Academy. He was relieved to find out it was only a sprain.

The Huskies (6-1) men's basketball team is 2-0 without its top reserve but struggled at times against two America East opponents. A veteran guard, he's been a spark off the bench, igniting the Huskies when he enters a game. He's averaged 5.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game.

Although he's increasing his activity level, Evans has yet to fully participate in practice. During UConn's day off on Friday, he did some shooting, dribbling, shoulder strengthening exercises and also ran on a treadmill.

"I'm making great strides," Evans said. "My trainer, James (Doran), is really helping me out a lot. It's getting better every day. ? The pain goes down a lot each day, but it is still painful."

He expects to receive an update on his condition at his next doctor's appointment "probably" on Monday.

He plans on practicing on Sunday

"I'm not sure to what extent, contact or full contact," Evans said. "I'm definitely going to be able to practice on Sunday. I'm definitely ready to get going. I've only been out a week but it feels like forever. I want to get back on the court and play with my team."

While on the sidelines, Evans has remained a vocal leader, trying to contribute any way that he can. He's encouraged his teammates and offered advice during games.

It's been tough for him to watch the Huskies flounder offensively, especially in a 61-53 victory over New Hampshire Thursday in Hartford. He believes he can make a positive impact when he returns.

Right now, Evans is focusing on his recovery. He wants to be healthy before playing again.

"Everybody is telling me that they can't wait for me to get back," Evans said. "I'm just trying to get back to 100 percent so I can come back and play the same way I did before I got hurt."

A graduate student, Evans says he's doing well in the classroom. He's already taken one final exam and has two more tests left.

He's also happy his alma mater won its Class LL football quarterfinal on Wednesday, beating Newtown 63-21. His cousin, Khaleed Exum-Strong, rushed for two touchdowns. NFA faces top-seeded Staples on Sunday.

"My little cousin is over there doing work," Evans said. "He's doing his thing. I'm happy for them."

g.keefe@theday.com

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